National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area: Federal Designation for 250 Miles of Private Lands Proposed in Utah

First in A Series, By Toni Thayer

U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) wants to turn two highways, fifty-four communities, and portions of six counties in southern and central Utah into one National Park Service (NPS) project, the National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area. Utah residents from communities along the highways are organizing to defeat the proposal, S. 916, introduced in the Senate by Bennett on April 11, his second introduction of the bill in as many years.

According to the NPS webpage at, “Each National Heritage Area is a new and ambitious experiment in ways to conserve and celebrate the Nation’s natural and cultural heritage.” A heritage area must be designated by Congress, have “natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources”, and be a “nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.”

Bennett’s bill finds that “Mormon colonization and settlement are nationally significant” and that “the 250-mile Highway 89 corridor from Kanab to Fairview, Utah, contains some of the best features of the Mormon colonization experience in the United States”.

If passed, the new Federal designation would encompass: Highway 89 from Page and Pipe Springs, Ariz. to Thistle in central Utah; Highways 12 and 24 (the Boulder Loop and out to Hanksville); and a few spur roads off the highways to unique attractions.

The scope of the project is actually the tiny slivers of remaining private and non-Federal lands where the affected highways and towns are located. The entire project is dwarfed by the surrounding national forests, national parks, national monuments, national natural landmark and state parks.

The bill allocates $10,000,000 for management of the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area, available in annual installments of $1,000,000, to a Utah unincorporated group, the Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance (the Alliance).

The Alliance currently works under the umbrella of another nonprofit, Panoramaland Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service group. Mt. Pleasant City Mayor Chesley Christensen serves as Panoramaland’s Council Chair.

Originally, the Alliance sprang from a business league, the Utah Heritage Products Alliance, Inc., set up in 1998, by Salt Lake City attorney Randon W. Wilson. According to the Bylaws for this “Alliance” posted online in the Utah Heritage Tourism Toolkit (, one of their purposes was to identify and advertise “corridors within the state of Utah for the marketing of heritage products”.

The State of Utah recently designated Highway 89 as the Utah Heritage Highway with the goal of securing Federal designation in 2003, according to the Utah Division of Travel Development. The State offers promotions, technical help and grants to fund “developing heritage areas and corridors and assist them with moving towards full state and potentially federal designation.”

Brad VanDyke and Ryan Syme from Spring City, Utah have begun a grassroots effort to stop the Federal designation dead in its tracks with the formation of “Rural Utahns for Local Solutions”. VanDyke said in a July 3 telephone interview, “I support preservation and tourism, but I don’t think residents within the project boundaries have been fully informed or given a chance to be heard.”

The NPS has “four critical steps” that must be completed prior to congressional designation. They are: 1.) A suitability/feasibility study; 2.) Public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study; 3.) Demonstration of widespread public support by residents within the heritage area; 4.) Commitments to the proposal by governments, industry, nonprofit organizations, and area residents.

The feasibility study for the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area was completed by Utah State University (USU) Extension in Sanpete County. Matching Federal and State of Utah grants paid for the study, according to Gary Anderson, the extension agent who prepared it.

Mt. Pleasant City Councilman Monte Bona also acts as the Executive Director of the Alliance. In a telephone interview on Aug. 4, he said, “The USU studies were prepared for the Alliance and are in no way to be confused with the feasibility studies for Bennett’s bill.”

Bona’s statement above directly contradicts NPS National Coordinator for Heritage Areas Brenda Barrett’s testimony at a June 20, 2002 Congressional Hearing on the first introduction of Bennett’s heritage area bill, “We have also reviewed a feasibility study prepared by Utah State University and find that it meets our criteria.”

Although the USU study, Proposed National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area, goes into great detail on the area’s natural and historic resources, it’s seriously lacking detail on the level of public involvement as required by the NPS. The only evidence shown in the study is, “Public support for the boundary map was obtained through various public meetings. These meetings were advertised to the general public. City mayors, city councils and county commissioners were also included in these public meetings.”

Bona indicated in the Aug. 4 telephone interview that the public was invited to each of the six county commissioner meetings held, but he went on to say that no meetings were scheduled with any city mayors or councils or in any other way for the public.

Another study prepared by USU for the Alliance, Guidelines for the Development and Coordination of the Craft Industry within the Utah Heritage Highway 89 Corridor, indicates a lack of public support by Internal Revenue Service standards for public charities, “It was reported that there was not much support in the Corridor for substantial financial commitment via dues to the Alliance.”

Telephone inquiries made to Sen. Bennett’s Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City offices on the heritage area designation were not returned by press time.

VanDyke and Syme are continuing to spread the word on the new Federal designation through letter writing campaigns to elected officials, contacts with Utah residents who want more information, and guest appearances on radio talk shows. They want the public notified of the proposed project with public meetings held up and down the Highway 89 corridor, in each and every one of the fifty-four affected communities.

For more information on Rural Utahns for Local Solutions, contact Brad VanDyke at

Our coverage continues next week on this Federal designation for 250 miles of southern and central Utah lands.


Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to:

Toni Thayer: or email
Garfield County News: 435-679-8730 or email


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