Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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Management of Capitol Reef National Monument changed considerably once the paved road was finally completed in the early 1960s. It is no coincidence that at the same time the road construction through the Fremont River canyon finally became affordable, money was also available to buy out most of the private lands in Fruita and build a visitor center, utility building, a modern campground, and interpretive shelters.

The monument was developed during a period of intense visitation pressure on the entire national park system. As millions of post-war vacationers took to the roads, the inadequate facilities in many parks and monuments were overwhelmed. The National Park Service and Congress responded to these pressures by increasing appropriations for the development of roads, buildings, and campgrounds and by re-evaluating the private lands and concessions within the national park system. This enormous project, begun in 1955, was dubbed "Mission 66" because it was to be completed by the National Park Service's 50th anniversary in 1966.

For Capitol Reef National Monument, the results were significant. The desperately needed facilities built to accommodate the anticipated crowds transformed the park. Since the monument's creation, the lack of National Park Service investment had allowed traditional uses of the land by residents, ranchers, and the occasional visitor to continue. Isolation and minimal facilities had been the only real safeguards for the monument's protection. After Mission 66, no longer would the single employee, the superintendent, be just another neighbor at Fruita. The increase in traffic, buildings, budgets, and personnel would finally put the National Park Service in control of the monument, making it an influential and sometimes criticized part of the community. Capitol Reef National Monument was finally becoming a true, fully functioning unit of the National Park Service. While the developments were in large part what local residents had wanted, the resulting management changes were not always understood or appreciated.

Mission 66

Post-World War II America was a rapidly growing, affluent, automobile-crazed country. Better highways and increased leisure time made summer trips available to virtually every American. By the mid-1950s, it seemed every American was visiting the national parks. Visitation increased from 6 million people in 1942 to 33 million in 1950, 50 million in 1955, and 72 million in 1960. [1] Yet, few facilities had been constructed in the parks since CCC days, and appropriations (all but eliminated during World War II) had been curtailed again during the Korean conflict. Director Conrad L. Wirth, who assumed the helm of the National Park Service in 1951, had finally seen enough of the deteriorating conditions. He called for a comprehensive study of

all the problems facing the National Park Service--protection, staffing, interpretation, use, development, financing, needed legislation, forest protection, fire -and all other phases of park management. [2]

President Eisenhower enthusiastically endorsed the study and Congress responded generously to the resulting Mission 66 plan. More than one billion dollars were allocated to the national parks from 1956 to 1966, to construct new roads and trails, visitor centers, maintenance, and employee housing, and to acquire private lands and water rights. The Mission 66 project also upgraded resource management programs and re-evaluated present and future concessions within the parks. It was proposed that some parks and monuments be free of any private lodging or services within their boundaries. [3]

Mission 66 was a thorough master plan for the entire National Park Service, rather than the usual piecemeal, year-to-year planning effort. Mission 66 initiated a period of intense, National Park Service development paralleled only by CCC construction effort of the Great Depression--and even the CCC era didn't see a complete evaluation of overall park management, as occurred during Mission 66.

Not everyone concurred that Mission 66 development was good for the national parks. Objections were raised by individual senators who wanted more for their districts, and by a fledgling environmental movement that saw pristine resources being compromised for mass accessibility. Writer Edward Abbey, for one, earned his reputation in part with his protests over the paved roads and other improvements sought in the master plans of the southwestern parks. [4]

Controversy notwithstanding, the impact of Mission 66 was significant. By the mid-1950s, the park service had determined that the increasing crowds must be accommodated with a wide range of facilities and resources to make each visit as enjoyable and educational as possible. The growing traffic and overcrowding problems could not be ignored. The National Park Service hoped that by enhancing visitor experience, and thus appreciation, visitors would treat resources with more respect. These changes were bound to be controversial to both the fledgling environmental movement and traditional-use advocates.

The earliest known documentation relating to Mission 66 plans for Capitol Reef is an answered questionnaire from Zion Superintendent Paul Franke to Director Conrad Wirth, regarding needs and problems at each park. While discouraged over the inadequate amount of time allotted to conduct the survey, Franke listed numerous current problems and future needs at Capitol Reef. On his list are continued uranium mining and grazing. Of most concern, though, were private lands at Fruita and directly outside the monument at Pleasant Creek. These properties, according to Franke, "present[ed] the most serious hinder public use and destroy the area character." A case in point was the "most undesirable and messy" Capitol Reef Lodge. [5]

The bare necessities for Capitol Reef were facilities to meet the demands of an anticipated 300,000 visitors traveling on the paved highway by 1966--a 500 percent increase since 1956. Recommended developments included a visitor center and a larger campground along with self-guiding trails, parking, picnic areas, and wayside exhibits. Franke believed that the monument would continue to see almost exclusive day use, but predicted that this would soon overlap into the spring and fall "shoulder" seasons. Interestingly, while Franke saw the need for headquarters development to meet the increasing crowds, he did not view these crowds as an immediate threat to Capitol Reef's resources. Franke believed that "the brilliant colored cliffs and sparse vegetation can be visited and used by many thousands of tourists without damage." [6]

Franke believed that human use of the monument could be limited by simply regulating the kinds and areas of development. In 1955, Franke specifically saw the need to broaden the average tourist's exposure to the monument. He wrote:

The thinking now is that additional opportunities should be provided to the public to make different kinds of use than that of merely riding through the area in automobiles. The development of trails, parking and camping facilities along with an interpretive program encourage greater use. [7]

Attempting to make the average visitor stay longer than a couple of hours in the park would prove to be one of the most difficult management problems for many years to come.

This ability to anticipate impacts instead of reacting to them makes the Mission 66 plans for Capitol Reef National Monument different from those of many other units of the national park system. In the more popular parks, Mission 66 development responded to already overcrowded conditions. Capitol Reef, on the other hand, had the luxury of planning so that future visitation pressures could be appropriately channeled.

The Road is Coming

Before plans could be made, however, the paved road had to be constructed. The final six miles from the Twin Rocks formation near the western park boundary to Fruita was begun in September 1956 and was finished in June 1957. [8] For the first time, people could travel all the way into Capitol Reef's headquarters area by paved road. Travel through the rest of the monument would continue to be on rough dirt and rock until 1962. The new road's impact on the area was seen not only in the increased traffic numbers (67,500 total in 1956, of which only 6,200 signed the register) but on the local scene as well. The large number of workers staying in the Capitol Reef Lodge and the Gifford Motel through the winter increased demand for limited water supplies.

Meanwhile, the road's construction, according to Superintendent Kelly, was adversely affecting the headquarters area. Not only did irrigation ditches have to be re-routed, but deep road cuts made the ranger station all but invisible, and "a large number of very beautiful shade trees were removed, which change[d] the appearance of this green oasis." [9]

Once the road was paved to Fruita, the route from there had to be decided. The two alternatives for the paved highway through Capitol Reef were 1) through the Fremont River canyon, the park service preference; or 2) to continue south from Capitol Gorge and go through the Pleasant Creek drainage, which was the state's preference. [10] Utah's preference for the Pleasant Creek route may have been based on the desire to connect as many state sections by road as possible. After a good deal of negotiation, however, the state determined that it would be cheaper to have the federal government pay for six miles of road through the Fremont River canyon than to finance, itself, some 15 miles of construction through Pleasant Creek. [11]

Before the road could be built through the Fremont River canyon, however, another three years of surveys and negotiation with Fruita residents were necessary. Meanwhile, Capitol Reef saw its first change in superintendents.

Kelly's Last Years At Capitol Reef

The uranium boom at Capitol Reef National Monument ended in 1956, leaving the Yellow Canary and Yellow Joe mines next to the old Oyler Tunnel the only active claims into the 1960s. The constant battle with prospectors all but over, Superintendent Kelly spent most of his time meeting visitors and doing what he could to protect the monument's resources and improve its facilities. By the mid-1950s, he had a seasonal ranger every summer and a couple of maintenance men available when needed. Yet, until Grant Clark arrived in May 1958 as the first permanent ranger, Capitol Reef was for the most part still a one-man operation.

Kelly often mentioned in his monthly reports that magazines such as Arizona Highways, Sunset, and Travel were writing articles promoting Capitol Reef and the surrounding areas. The increased visitation encouraged by this publicity and by the better roads was consuming most of Kelly's time. Larger issues such as boundary adjustments and the impending road construction were mostly handled at the coordinating superintendent's level at Zion National Park or from the regional office in Santa Fe.

Due to his age and declining health, Kelly was beginning to curtail his activities at Capitol Reef at the same time Zion National Park and the regional office were becoming more active in planning the monument's future developments. In 1956, Kelly wrote in his diary:

My health is slowly failing, although the doctor can find nothing wrong. Have no appetite and no energy. My eyes are also failing and I won't be able to drive for very long unless I can have a radical correction. May have to leave before 1960, but have no plans. [12]

Kelly retired in February 1959 at the age of 70, after 15 years at Capitol Reef: six years as a virtual volunteer custodian and almost nine years as a paid employee. Despite his lack of National Park Service experience (Capitol Reef was his only duty station), he served the monument and the service well. Kelly's difficulties usually resulted from occasional disputes with his Fruita neighbors. In examining his overall record, however, he single-handedly protected the monument's resources throughout its earliest years, most notably during the uranium boom of the mid-1950s. Charles Kelly planted the seeds for later growth at Capitol Reef. Yet, the increasing developments, budget, and personnel brought by the growing crowds were changing Capitol Reef from the quiet, isolated "Red Rock Eden" of Kelly's era. It was now time for more experienced managers to handle the increasingly complicated decisions affecting a rapidly evolving Capitol Reef National Monument.

William T. Krueger became the new superintendent of Capitol Reef on April 1, 1959. Krueger was well acquainted with the monument since he had spent most of his time in the National Park Service working at Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and had been superintendent at Cedar Breaks National Monument. He spent a year as chief ranger at Saguaro National Monument in Tucson before transferring to Capitol Reef. Krueger was one of the new, college-educated career employees that came out of the military at the end of World War II. He was a native of Bingham Canyon, Utah, and had received his Bachelor's degree in forest management from Utah State University. [13] In contrast to Kelly, Krueger was Mormon. He and Ranger Grant Clark were also active in secular organizations, such as the Lion's Club. From his reports and correspondence, he appears to have been very business-like and concerned about Capitol Reef's resources. As the superintendent responsible for implementing the Mission 66 improvements at the monument, Krueger's legacy is almost as profound as Charles Kelly's. After his six years at Capitol Reef, Krueger moved on to Golden Spike National Historic Site, from which he retired in 1973. [14]

While he was an efficient manager, Krueger struggled with the local population over the way private landholdings were purchased and the manner in which Capitol Gorge was eventually closed. Kelly, who disapproved of many of Krueger's decisions, nicknamed the new superintendent "Kaiser William."

To be fair, no manager could have presided over such rapid change without drawing some complaints. Local residents wanted park development and the prosperity it could bring to Wayne County, yet they also resented the change to the habitual, traditional uses of the monument's land that a prosperous, tourist economy would necessitate. Perhaps the most resentment was generated by National Park Service purchase of private landholdings.

Acquiring The Private Inholdings

The dilemma over what to do with the small tracts of private land in the orchard farm community of Fruita had troubled National Park Service officials since the monument was first proposed. The first boundaries had even excluded Fruita. The early master plans had, at first, recommended the immediate purchase of all the private lands, then later concluded that they posed no imminent threat. [15]

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the limited number of tourists and the correspondingly minimal agency appropriations enabled Fruita to continue much as it always had. The social makeup of Fruita, however, was changing from solid Mormon to a mix of traditional families, non-Mormon retirees, and tourist operations residing under the newly imposed rules of the National Park Service. First to move in was Doc Inglesby, a retired, non-Mormon dentist and tour operator, followed by the National Park Service and Charles Kelly. By the mid-1940s the Capitol Reef Lodge was under construction, and a few years later the Giffords built their own motel (Fig. 12). The Mulfords also ran a small cafe and gas station at the south end of Fruita.

Gifford Motel
Figure 12. Gifford Motel, Fruita. (NPS file photo)

By the end of the 1950s, the inholdings were four original Mormon fruit farms owned by Cora Oyler Smith, Clarence Chesnut, Dewey Gifford, and Cass Mulford, and another five tracts owned by Max Krueger, Doc Inglesby, artists Richard and Elizabeth Sprang, the retired Dean Brimhall, and lodge-owner Archie Bird. There was also a portion of a state section along the proposed right-of-way east of Fruita, owned by Wonderland Stages (a Salt Lake City tour company); and Lurton Knee's Sleeping Rainbow Guest Ranch was operating out of Pleasant Creek. The old, insulated, idealized Mormon community of Fruita had indeed changed. In fact, local Mormon ownership was distinctly in the minority when proceedings began to buy out Capitol Reef National Monument's inholdings. [16]

As mentioned earlier, inholding acquisition was a priority under Mission 66. According to an agency monograph detailing the needs and purpose of the project:

Development of these [non-federal] lands as private homesites or for commercial enterprises detrimental to the parks, the hindrance they present to orderly park development, and the problems they present to management and protection, warrant their acquisition at the earliest practicable date. [17]

Given this priority to acquire inholdings, it is curious that Acting Regional Director Hugh Miller argued that the National Park Service should not make a "concentrated effort" to purchase the lands in Fruita. Miller believed park service purchase of the private lands would "destroy this little community," which was "in itself an 'exhibit in place,' a typical Mormon settlement which ha[d] retained much of its early day charm." [18]

Zion Superintendent Paul Franke, who had long dealt with the problems at Fruita, was more than a little upset at this recommendation. With Mission 66 money soon to be available, this seemed the perfect opportunity to resolve the issue. In his reply to Miller, Franke strongly objected to the idea that Fruita was of historical importance:

The historic features listed in your memorandum, and by the experts, are not visible to me. The worn out buildings are such that even the most pious Mormon would disown. Historic quaintness may be associated with the 'old timers.' However, their time in a permanent exhibit is but a passing moment....How can we build a typical 'Mormon Community' out of such temporary variables as human beings? These are transient values and we should not let our misguided sympathies for a few 'old timers' and their structures, even if adorned 'with star and crescent', divert our attention from the real values and significant points of Capitol Reef. [19]

Franke urged that plans not be considered based on the Capitol Reef of 15 years earlier or even of the present, but on the inevitable fact that the new, proposed paved road through the monument would bring hundreds of thousands of tourists into an area that was not prepared to handle them.

According to Franke, at absolute minimum, all the private holdings north of the Fremont River should be purchased for National Park Service development, and the lands south of the river could then be used for private concessions. Franke rejected the position of Kelly and Regional Land Chief John Kell that the Max Krueger land at the far eastern edge of Fruita was enough for preliminary development: that parcel was too flood-prone and could not accommodate all the needed facilities. Franke's motivation to purchase Fruita seems to be based on perceived National Park Service needs for development. If he could demonstrate that the inholdings were indeed dilapidated, then his argument would be that much more persuasive. [20]

The Mission 66 Prospectus for Capitol Reef National Monument, written mostly by Franke, recommended purchasing most, if not all, the private inholdings in the monument. The 1956 document, as approved by Director Wirth, stated:

There is no justification for maintaining the old settlement of Fruita because it is neither typical of pioneer settlements nor is there any value that might enhance understanding or appreciation of the area. Reduced to its proper perspective acquisition of the private lands within the monument is in accordance with Service policy and need not constitute a major undertaking. The total estimated cost of the proposed land purchases and water rights is $125,000. We hope to exchange out around 1900 acres of State owned land. [21]

The determination that Fruita lacked historical significance is key to understanding why there was no effort to retain historical integrity once the lands were purchased. Notably, however, all arguments about Fruita's significance are based on buildings and people rather than on the orchards, irrigation ditches, and land use patterns. Since most of the buildings and all the people are now gone, these orchards, ditches, and fields are, as of the mid-1990s, the crux of many land-use decisions. Yet these aspects were not even mentioned in most of the correspondence and planning documents related to Mission 66 or the purchase of the private inholdings.

By the end of 1955 it was determined that every private inholding would be purchased in its entirety for either future developments, the road right-of-way, or both. [22] The land was to be purchased in two installments: the first would free up the proposed Fremont River corridor highway right-of-way, and the second would secure all other lands south of the proposed road. From this point on, the Fremont River road construction and purchase of most of the private inholdings would be intertwined (Fig. 13). [23]

Figure 13. Fruita inholdings, 1963. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The final decision to go with the Fremont River corridor route in 1958 hastened the need for the first phase of property purchases. The Cora Smith and Max Krueger inholdings were appraised in 1958, but neither was willing to sell. [24] The difficulties with Smith and Krueger were the most cumbersome of the early land deals, portending later troubles. By the end of June 1959, the survey of the Fremont River road was complete but construction could not begin until the right-of-way purchases could be made. [25]

The tensions arising from acquisition of the inholdings were exacerbated by delays in the appraisal process. By 1960, these delays were holding up road construction. Superintendent Krueger found himself pressured from all sides. The State of Utah was ready to begin construction, and the Associated Civic Clubs of Southern Utah, the Wayne County Lions Club, and the Utah congressional delegation were insisting that the National Park Service get the money appropriated and start the road as soon as possible. It must have been frustrating for local and state tourism boosters finally to see their long-desired road within reach, only to have the project delayed again by the slow process of transferring the private landholdings into federal ownership. Added pressures from businessmen wanting a share of the expected tourist dollars from the nearly completed Glen Canyon Dam, south of Capitol Reef, didn't help the situation. [26] To put even more pressure on the National Park Service, the ceremony to open bids for the roads construction drew over 1,000 people in October 1960. [27]

The lengthy appraisal process on five separate inholdings and the continued intransigence of Cora Smith and Max Krueger forced the National Park Service to proceed with condemnation. Finally, on June 2, 1961, a Declaration of Taking was filed on five tracts of land totaling a little over 284 acres. These tracts were owned by Krueger, Smith, the Brimhalls, the Sprangs, and Utah Wonderland Stages. An additional, 37-acre tract was purchased from the Brimhalls at about the same time. Acquisition of these lands finally cleared the right-of-way for the new highway, which was begun in August only to be shut down by summer flooding until September. [28]

The bitter dispute over the Smith and Krueger properties ended up in court, where both were awarded a good deal more money than had been offered by the federal government. [29] Krueger was so upset by the whole process that he wondered "just where the difference lies between socialism, extreme bureaucracy, and communism." [30] Smith, on the other hand, never had any intention to sell and, as a matter of fact, never even gave an asking price. Today, she seems bitter that everyone else was sold out so easily. She simply "didn't want it to change." Smith recalls, "I wanted it like it was. And that's the only thing I got agin' it. I thought them people was all nuts for selling their places and they did. They sold 'em." [31]

Lurton Knee, whose Sleeping Rainbow Ranch escaped this round of private land purchases, was a witness to the buyout. According to Knee, the people of Fruita had "had enough of the hard work and the isolation, yes, but mostly the hard work." Knee added that, contrary to the opinions held by many in neighboring communities, the residents were not forced out but were more than willing to sell out. In fact, only in the Krueger and Smith cases was the amount of money an issue. As for the houses themselves, Knee recalled years later, "most of the people's homes there were just shacks and there was nothing you could do to preserve them." He added, "But the people did resent [their being torn down] because that was their home, you understand that." [32]

Because of the rapid changes that occurred in Fruita in the early 1960s, a lot of untruths have emerged. Some local residents, and even visitors from other states, believe that the National Park Service pushed these people out against their will and irreversibly altered the Fruita landscape, intending to wiping out all Mormon presence. Documents, however, argue that most landowners, who again were not of local origin, were more than willing to sell. Their land was "condemned" only because it sped the process so that roadwork could begin. Insofar as altering the landscape, it is true that most of the houses, which almost everyone agreed were in very poor condition, were torn down. That some homes were destroyed right after the residents moved out angered some in the community, but the National Park Service couldn't afford to wait.

In this author's opinion, any animosity toward Capitol Reef management as a result of the inholding purchases probably has more to do with the speed of the process than with anything else. The local residents were used to a quiet, isolated, and unchanging life in Fruita. In over 20 years of the monument's existence, nothing much had really changed. Then, in a relative blink of an eye, the residents were gone, the houses torn down, and a road was paved through the canyon. That kind of rapid change in any slow-paced, rural environment was bound to upset a few people.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002