Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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On January 20, 1969, as his last official act as president, Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation expanding Capitol Reef's boundary by six times its previous size. This presidential proclamation and the subsequent reactions to it had a more profound effect on Capitol Reef National Park than any previous event. Not even the creation of the national monument in 1937 or the changes made during Mission 66 compare to the effects of the 1969 expansion on Capitol Reef management, resources, and its relationship with the local community.

Hints of change were in the air as early as 1961, when the first legislation was introduced in Congress to create a Capitol Reef National Park. At the same time, there was a growing movement to protect what wilderness remained in the national parks and forests. At the wilderness hearings for Capitol Reef, the recurring animosities between local preferences and National Park Service planning emerged once again.

By the end of 1968, Washington politics decided Capitol Reef's fate. High officials in the Department of the Interior believed that the incoming Republican administration would not be as willing to expand the national parks as were the outgoing Democrats. Before leaving his Cabinet post, Secretary of the Interior Udall proposed a sweeping plan to create and expand parks and monuments in Alaska and the Southwest. Capitol Reef National Monument was among those listed. While debate and compromise in Washington whittled down the list, Capitol Reef's management was kept guessing and the local communities were left out of the decision-making process. From an initial proposal of seven new or expanded national monuments comprising over seven million acres, only four areas totaling 300,000 acres made President Johnson's final cut: one of these was Capitol Reef. The tremendous acreage added to Capitol Reef National Monument made it the largest unit of the National Park Service in Utah.

The resulting outcry from neighboring residents, ranchers, miners, and politicians was both furious and predictable. The final solution devised by Utah's congressional delegation was to make both Capitol Reef and Arches into national parks. Yet, even this legislation had its own troubled history before finally passing in late 1971.

On December 18, 1971, Capitol Reef National Park was created with the same boundaries as exist in the mid-1990s. Its new size and designation would help protect some of the Colorado Plateau's most outstanding sculpted sandstone scenery and high desert resources. Yet, most of the beautiful, sparse lands protected in this new park had been used by ranchers and miners for almost a century before its incorporation into the national park system. Park management would now be forced to balance traditional multiple resource use with resource protection and rehabilitation.

This chapter details events that led to the 1969 expansion proclamation. The ensuing controversy and legislation is covered in Chapter 11. What follows in the next two chapters is an analysis of the events and debates that impacted the creation and present management of this national park. Unfortunately, many of the primary documents relating to the period 1967-1972 are missing. The original documents that have been found are supplemented by oral interviews, congressional testimony, secondary sources, and newspaper articles.

Early Legislative Efforts

There is no record of any congressional legislation or resolutions passed before 1961 that specifically mention Capitol Reef. While Utah senators and congressmen supported local efforts both to create and improve Capitol Reef, they never seem to have vocalized that support in the House or Senate chambers. [1]

In 1961, Capitol Reef National Monument was undergoing significant change. The new paved highway through the monument was about to be constructed and Mission 66 plans were calling for over $2 million in new staff and facilities to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. Capitol Reef was no longer the quiet little national monument it once was. [2]

Republican Sen. Wallace Bennett set out to help the tourism boom in southern Utah by upgrading several national monuments to national park status. In 1961, 1963, and 1965, Bennett introduced bills to create Arches, Capitol Reef, and Cedar Breaks National Parks within their existing national monument boundaries. Bennett argued:

[I]n spite of the inspiring grandeur of these three national monuments, the number of people who visit them is relatively small. While the nearby Grand Canyon National Park received 1,187,000 visitors in 1960, only 102,000 visited Capitol Reef, 115,800 visited Cedar Breaks, and 71,600 visited Arches. A principal reason for the relatively small number of visitors is, I am sure, that fact that they have not received national park designation. Their present national monument status does not carry with it in the public mind the prestige associated with national parks. Such recognition is not only deserved, but long overdue. [3]

Sen. Bennett had also introduced bills to upgrade Rainbow Bridge to national park status and create a Canyonlands National Park straddling the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. He sponsored yet another bill to construct a National Park Service Parkway connecting many of these scenic areas of southern Utah. [4] Except for the Canyonlands bill, which was significantly altered by Democratic Utah Sen. Frank Moss before passage, Bennett's proposals never made it out of committee, primarily due to unfavorable reports from the National Park Service.

The National Park Service's Mission 66 plans for southwestern parks were focused on upgrading existing facilities rather than changing names or status. Agency officials, therefore, requested that Bennett's bill changing Capitol Reef from a monument to a park be postponed indefinitely. In an advisory letter to Clinton P. Anders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Assistant Interior Secretary John Carr wrote:

The Capitol Reef National Monument of several national monuments in this area earmarked for study to determine whether they merit status as national parks. When the results of a study of the Capitol Reef National Monument is completed, the Department will formulate recommendations covering the feasibility and desirability of according national park status. [5]

Since national park status possibilities were never mentioned in Capitol Reef master or wilderness plans during the 1960s, it is likely that the study mentioned by Carr never went very far.

When Bennett reintroduced his park bills during the next Congress in 1963, his Republican ally, Rep. Lawrence Burton, sponsored a similar bill in the House. Bennett noted, "More than sufficient time has elapsed for the Department [of Interior] to conclude its studies and I am hopeful that without further delay it will bestow its full approval upon the elevation in status which Capitol Reef so richly merits." [6"]

It is hard to know exactly how much effort Bennett and Burton put into these early attempts to get national park status for Capitol Reef. The chances that these bills would even make it out of committee would have been slim, since Bennett and Burton were working in a Democrat-controlled Congress. It is also likely that debate over the Canyonlands National Park bills and interest over the rapidly filling Lake Powell, which was anticipated to be the real tourist draw in southern Utah, may have consumed congressional attention for the next few years. Once again, Capitol Reef was left alone to concentrate on Mission 66 improvements and growing visitation within the confines of the old national monument. [7]

1967 Wilderness Proposal

Throughout the early 1960s, the National Park Service continued to invest millions of dollars in roads and facilities. The upgrades, especially in previously unsupported areas such as Capitol Reef, were badly needed. Yet, environmental organizations and some members of Congress worried that Mission 66 was going too far, that park integrity and preservation values were being sacrificed to accommodate increasing tourism.

The debate pendulum between accessibility and preservation had been swinging preservation's way ever since the 1956 defeat of the Echo Canyon Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. Now, with Mission 66 plans in many parks threatening newly emphasized wilderness, environmentalists urged the National Park Service to designate roadless areas like those proposed in national forests. [8]

The strength of the environmental movement was exemplified by passage of the National Wilderness Preservation System, or Wilderness Act of 1964, as it is commonly called. This law required federal land management agencies, including the National Park Service, to study, offer hearings, and recommend to Congress specific areas within their control to be designated wilderness, thus protecting them in a wild, undeveloped condition. Each addition to the wilderness system, whether it be under U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National Park Service control, had to adhere to Wilderness Act requirements and be individually approved by an act of Congress. [9]

Not all National Park Service officials were enthusiastic about the Wilderness Act. Many felt that wilderness within a national park or monument was already insured protection, unlike the multiple-use lands managed by other federal agencies. Of greater concern, however, was the threat to the service's autonomy in determining long-range policy. Wilderness designation would not only affect how park lands were managed, but could very likely restrict future road and facility expansion just when development possibilities seemed limitless. [10]

The initial wilderness proposals and hearings for many of the national parks were conducted during a period of heightened environmental awareness and controversy. The controversy, for the most part, focused on proposals to build a dam within what was then Grand Canyon National Monument. This volatile issue, together with the environmental movement's nearly-perfected strategy of letter-writing campaigns, saw the National Park Service diluged with waves of letters supporting the maximum amount of wilderness possible. Local protests were drowned in this sea of wilderness support.

It was in this context that Capitol Reef National Monument conducted its own wilderness hearings in December 1967. The preliminary proposal, which was drafted in September, called for five separate units totaling 23,074 acres out of a possible maximum of 30,150 roadless acres (Fig. 26). Monument lands not designated wilderness included:

Figure 26. 1967 Wilderness proposal, Capitol Reef National Monument. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

1) the areas west and south of Chimney Rock and west of the old highway down to Capitol Gorge;

2) the developed headquarters and remaining inholdings at Fruita;

3) the Fremont River canyon, with its state highway and public utilities corridors;

4) the old highway corridor to Capitol Gorge and its spurs into Grand Wash and Pleasant Creek; and

5) a 1/8-mile buffer around the entire monument, considered the minimum necessary for management needs, including fencing of the monument. [11]

The largest of the proposed wilderness units was that area, almost devoid of human footprints, north of Utah Highway 24 to the north monument boundary. The other units, south of the Fremont River, were divided by the designated stock driveways through Grand Wash, Capitol Gorge, and Pleasant Creek. Like the northern district, these southern units were also classic wilderness, with rugged, virtually impenetrable desert slickrock cliffs, canyons, and domes. [12]

Looking back at events years later, Capitol Reef Superintendent Robert C. Heyder observed that the wilderness designation would "not have changed the operation of the park at all." The areas under consideration were backcountry and would always be treated as backcountry. From a management perspective, formal wilderness might have "helped to zone, put tighter constraints on the planners if they wanted to build something," said Heyder, "and I certainly [saw] nothing wrong with that." [13]

Regardless of the minimal effects the wilderness plan would have on Capitol Reef management, the National Park Service proposal was attacked from two sides. First, the environmental organizations wanted the buffer zones and stock driveways included in two large wilderness units. Second, local residents and traditional multiple-use advocates were afraid that customary use would be further inhibited and/or that stock driveways would be blocked. Most of those who favored additional wilderness responded by letter, whereas those opposed to any wilderness showed up at the public hearing on December 12, 1967 at the Wayne County Courthouse in Loa.

According to Heyder, the two-and-a-half-hour meeting was attended by 42 people. The presiding officer was John C. Preston, with Assistant Regional Director George Miller, from Santa Fe, presenting the National Park Service proposal. [14] After outlining the initial plan, Miller and Heyder listened as ranchers and local politicians voiced their opposition. Limitations on access and development were the chief concerns raised by local residents. Hugh King, president of the Wayne County Farm Bureau, perhaps expressed local misgivings the best when he stated:

They are locking it up for a few naturalists....[T]he Park, I believe, is adequate in protecting our resources and things and I don't think we need to lock these resources from any further development. The great problem in my county and our country has been decrease in population. [We need] labor and things to keep our young people here and this park has furnished a lot of work and we appreciate that. [15]

Clearly, King wanted development in the monument to continue providing employment for local residents so they wouldn't have to move to the city. De Von Taylor, president of the Wayne County Cattlemen's Association, also expressed the need for multiple-use of monument resources by area residents when he stated:

We feel the present state of Capitol Reef is in the best interest of the people of this area and no more restrictions should be placed on these lands. But we feel that the public lands should be placed more for multiple-use and for the benefit of these people in this area. [16]

This argument, so common in the rural West, was countered by the increasing number of recreational users of the land who saw the value in preserving what remained of "America's wilderness heritage." Members of the Wilderness Society were urged to attend the hearing or write in favor of wilderness that would "provide a setting of remoteness and offer the experience of true solitude to all who visit them." [17] The Wilderness Society position, of course, was to eliminate the buffer around the monument boundary because "otherwise, new incursions will result in steadily decreasing wilderness." [18] Since the National Park Service had proposed this buffer zone in other proposed wilderness areas, this philosophical argument over wilderness boundary interpretations was not specific to Capitol Reef.

The hottest debate over Capitol Reef's wilderness plan concerned the stock driveways. The National Park Service plan called for the stock driveways to continue because they are mandated by the presidential proclamations establishing the monument in 1937 and expanding it in 1958. Wilderness advocates recognized these driveways as well, but felt that they could be included in designated wilderness areas since "grazing is recognized as a conforming use of wilderness in the provisions of the Wilderness Act." [19]

Local ranchers who used the driveways through the canyons to move their livestock between summer ranges in the western high plateaus to winter ranges east of the monument were, naturally, concerned about the impact that wilderness designation could have on their customary use of the land. The National Park Service plans recognized these fears by excluding those canyons from wilderness designation, thereby separating the various wilderness units. Despite objections from the flood of letters supporting the Wilderness Society position, the agency did not change these plans. [20]

After the hearings, National Park Service correspondence indicates, attempts were made to eliminate livestock drives from some of the canyons to placate the environmentalist majority. Superintendent Heyder, however, opposed that move, arguing:

[I]f we do, it will mean a complete reversal of our reasoning given at the Wilderness Hearing at Loa, Utah on December 12. At that time we made the point that the proposed wilderness designation would in no way affect the present stock driveway arrangement. [21]

Heyder's recommendations were endorsed by Regional Director Frank Kowski: the driveways would be retained. The National Park Service omitted the canyon corridors from the wilderness plan, not because of the perceived incompatibility of grazing with wilderness, but because the agency, and particularly Superintendent Heyder, recognized local objections to infringement on customary use. [22]

The 1967 Capitol Reef wilderness corridor proposal was never formally presented to Congress. As a matter of fact, the creation of wilderness areas throughout the national park system has never been as extensive as advocates hoped. [23] Once again, Capitol Reef managers were faced with balancing local customs and traditional use with resource protection. In this case, local desires to exempt the stock driveways from wilderness designation were incorporated into the wilderness plan, despite pressure from the growing environmental movement throughout the rest of the country.

The Genesis Of Expansion, 1968

Democrat Lyndon Johnson had one of the most successful conservation records of any president in history. Between 1964 and early 1969, 44 new, mostly historic areas were added to the National Park Service system, more than during any other, single president's term. As part of his Great Society, 4.8 million acres of national recreation areas such as Delaware Water Gap, Indiana Dunes, and Wolf Trap were established to benefit inner- city populations. More controversial national parks such as Redwood and North Cascades were also created during Johnson's administration; and far-reaching environmental bills such as the Wilderness Act, Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, National Trail Systems Act, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act were also signed into law. [24]

Though Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, regarded themselves as nature-lovers and personally supported these conservation measures, much credit for this tremendous record is due Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr., and an American public and Congress filled with new-found environmental pride. Udall and Johnson had a good working relationship: Udall was the director, orchestrating the bills through planning and committees, while Johnson was the producer, using his manipulative strengths to insure final passage. [25]

In March 1968, Johnson surprised the nation with his decision not to seek a second term of office. Udall, who had begun as interior secretary under John F. Kennedy in 1961, would step aside when the new administration, whether it be Republican or Democrat, took office the following January. [26]

The National Park Service had never been in such a strong position as it was in the summer of 1968. Visitation was at an all-time high and Mission 66 had all but accomplished its goals of improving the park infrastructure, organization, and interpretive abilities. Resource management was being funded as never before, in large part due to the 1963 Leopold Report, which had proclaimed that "[a] national park should represent a vignette of primitive America." And, thanks to the increasing power of the environmental lobby, further expansion of the national park system was regarded by Udall and others as inevitable. [27]

It was in this setting that Secretary Udall proposed to President Johnson an outgoing gift of new and expanded national park lands for the American people. Udall was very aware that other presidents--of both parties--had used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim new national monuments during their last days in office. Udall believed that, since Johnson's administration had been so environmentally successful, its gift should be the largest of all. [28]

Udall's original proposal in July 1968 was meant to probe Johnson's receptiveness to the idea. In his memorandum to the president, Udall hoped that,

[a]s a parting gift to future generations...before [Johnson left] office, [he would] consider using executive power in the tradition of the Roosevelt presidents to reserve and preserve unique lands already owned by the American people for future generations. [29]

Udall, warned, however, that such use of the Antiquities Act would meet some congressional opposition, but added that "adroit maneuvering" and national conservation organization support would "mollify enough congressional leaders so that your plans will not be upset by subsequent congressional action." Udall asked to be allowed to prepare "several proposals...involving significant additions to the permanent national estate." This simple request would lead to a confrontation between the president and his interior secretary that would forever tarnish their close partnership. [30]

With Johnson's approval, Udall went ahead with plans to study potential sites. He called in the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors, telling them to field their personnel and get recommendations to him by September. Udall later recalled:

[Hartzog] and the Director of Sports, Fish and Wildlife recommended some very large areas. I had to cut back their recommendations because I didn't want to rile Congress too much. On the other hand I wanted some big, significant things. [31]

The most logical places to look for "significant" additions to the National Park Service were in those parts of the country with large tracts of unoccupied federal land. The national forests, due to previous conflicts, were not considered. Thus, Bureau of Land Management public domain was an obvious target for National Park Service expansion.

Most of these lands were in Alaska; the rest were in the desert Southwest. Arizona, Udall's home state, held likely properties, as did Nevada and Utah. Several existing national monuments in Utah were surrounded by BLM lands, making them prime candidates for consideration. Of the 17 areas originally considered, the list was whittled down to the seven most promising, encompassing a proposed seven million additional acres for the National Park Service. [32]

There is no known documentation pinpointing when Capitol Reef was first considered as a part of Udall's proposed expansions. In August, Secretary Udall visited Canyonlands National Park and requested "proposals on boundary changes which might be desirable in the Canyonlands Colorado River Escalante country." [33] Arches National Monument sent in its proposed extensions at the end of August, but it is not known when Capitol Reef's changes were delivered. [34] The first that Capitol Reef Superintendent Heyder heard about proposals to expand his monument was at the dedication of Carl Hayden Visitor Center overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam on September 26, 1968. [35]

Heyder was only 37 years old, but had been in the National Park Service since his youth at Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Parks. Most recently, he had served as management assistant at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Missouri. His long career would see Heyder assume the superintendency of Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Mesa Verde National Parks before his retirement in 1993. He had been at Capitol Reef National Monument for only about a year when he was invited to hear Secretary Udall speak at the Hayden Visitor Center dedication. During the pre-ceremony gatherings, Regional Director Frank Kowski asked Heyder if he were aware that the park service was considering enlarging Capitol Reef National Monument. [36]

When Heyder said he knew nothing about this, Kowski explained that under consideration was a separate monument unit encompassing a portion of the Waterpocket south of Oak Creek to just above the Burr Trail. The stock driveway, water diversion, and irrigation dam in the drainage may have been why Bates Wilson and/or other field office personnel decided to exclude Oak Creek itself, and not connect this new unit directly to the southern boundary of the monument. [37]

When Heyder heard about this initial expansion idea from Kowski, he immediately pointed out that such a small additional unit was not enough. Heyder argued that any new boundary must be extended to insure protection of existing monument resources. Heyder also recommended that the entire Waterpocket Fold, from the Fishlake National Forest boundary in the north to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boundary in the south, be included in the expansion. Heyder later recalled that the regional director seemed surprised by these ideas, and promised to talk to him further after the dedication ceremony. [38]

After the dedication speeches by Udall and others, Kowski introduced Heyder to Secretary Udall. This was the first interior secretary Heyder had ever met and the meeting would prove to be particularly memorable. According to Heyder, Udall asked him, "Oh, what do you think about this idea of widening [the monument]?" Heyder responded that he didn't think the expansion was being done right. When the secretary asked what Heyder would do, the superintendent spoke up:

[Y]ou ought to go west of the main body [of the existing monument] and east a bit and take in Cathedral Valley up there and come off the [Thousand Lake] mountain and come all the way to the forest, you know, and take that whole thing in and then go all the way down to the recreation area. [39]

Udall responded favorably to Heyder's suggestions. Heyder recalled, "He said, 'You get with Bates the next couple of days and come up with something.'" Thereafter, the specific proposal to expand Capitol Reef would be largely in the hands of Superintendent Heyder.

The day after the dedication, Heyder drove over to Moab and consulted with Bates Wilson. There he saw a map of the original proposed boundaries, and they discussed Heyder's ideas. [40] Wilson then directed Heyder to "go back and pull the whole thing together and send it in and send me a copy." [41]

When Heyder returned to Capitol Reef, he took Chief Ranger Bert Speed into his confidence, and the two of them worked "the better part of three nights" poring over the maps and coming up with various alternatives. The first closely approximated the final January 1969 proclamation boundaries. Other possibilities, which considered adding the Henry Mountains or the Circle Cliffs, were not submitted because Heyder feared the acreage would be too big, too controversial. Later, a separate proposed boundary drawn by agency officials included the Circle Cliffs. The maps and descriptions were sent on to the regional office and from there directly to Secretary Udall (Figs. 27-28). All of this work was accomplished secretly. In fact, the text of the proposal was typed by Heyder's wife, since his secretary was Afton Taylor, wife of Wayne County rancher Don Taylor. [42]

Figure 27. 1968 boundary expansion, Proposal 1, Capitol Reef National Monument. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Figure 28. 1968 boundary expansion, Proposal 2, Capitol Reef National Monument. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Heyder was handicapped in making his boundary proposals because he could not determine what specific multiple-use claims existed in the areas involved. He believed that grazing permits were not extensive outside of the Henry Mountains, and he knew that there had been mining claims filed throughout the area. Moreover, Heyder felt that since all multiple-use claims and permits would be eliminated within the expanded boundaries of the national monument, the specific details of ownership were not a major concern at that time. Besides, even if the superintendent wanted to know these facts, there was no way he could obtain the information without alerting BLM personnel. [43]

Although these alternatives were later adjusted by park planner Norm Herkenham into the final proclamation boundaries, the initial idea to expand the monument to the park's modern configuration apparently originated with Robert Heyder. Even though specific documentation has not been located to corroborate Heyder's account, the superintendent evidently played a leading, crucial role in this significant expansion of Capitol Reef. [44]

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002