Rockies Research Trip Day 5: The National Park Service and Canyonlands National Park

Moab, UT and Canyonlands National Park

After enduring a lengthy night of perpetual mosquito harassment we departed from the riverside campsite at the BLM Goldbar campground and made our way three miles south of Moab to the National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group Headquarters. The Southeast Utah Group is the centralized administrative unit in charge of maintaining Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.

At the headquarters we met with Paul Henderson, Assistant Superintendent for the Southeast Utah Group. Paul was kind enough to discuss with our group the various challenges faced by the NPS when managing the aforementioned national parks and monuments. The majority of our discussion focused on Canyonlands, the largest of the four parks in the area, and the most challenging to manage. Paul laid out seven specific concerns the park service is currently dealing with.

First and foremost was the ongoing cleanup of the uranium-mining site located just north of Moab and directly on the Colorado River. Following standard procedure of virtually all mining companies in the West, the company that once owned this site filed for bankruptcy and subsequently abandoned the property, eventually leading to the Departments of Energy’s acquisition of the site. This particular site will remain one of the last and largest tailing sites along the Colorado until the cleanup is completed in approximately 12 years. While the NPS did not play an active role in the cleanup of the site, the leaching of materials into the river posed a significant threat to the riparian zones within the park boundaries.

The second issue looming over Canyonlands National Park, and throughout the river systems of the West, is the presence of tamarisk, or salt cedar. This non-native invasive and species was introduced to the region some forty years ago in an effort to reduce bank erosion. The plant has since choked out native cottonwoods and other local flora through its high water consumption and release of highly saline wastewater. Paul explained that the park service has not engaged in experimental tamarisk beetle introductions or large-scale fire removal.

Additional challenges that Paul discussed were: the management of five endangered fish species, the recovery of high operational costs, communication between park officials in emergency situations that is inhibited by the high number of dead spots, management of a geologic park with nonsensical geographic boundaries, and the classic NPS problem of balancing their dual missions of promoting recreation and entertainment and protecting our nations natural resources for future generations.

Paul proved not only to be a library of information but an entertaining speaker as well. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with him, and would like to again thank him for all of his assistance.

Once our meeting adjourned, we made our way to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. After setting up at a beautiful campsite, our group embarked on the 11-mile roundtrip journey from the Big Spring Canyon Overlook trailhead to the Green and Colorado River Confluence overlook. From 1,000 feet up we witnessed the two of the great rivers in the West collide and continue their journey South to Mexico.

We will now do the same, as our research team heads out once again on our way to Lake Powel.

By Warren King, State of he Rockies Project Researcher