capitol reef national park utah
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Torrey Capitol Reef.com - History
Capitol Reef National Park Human History

Called "Wayne Wonderland" in the 1920s by local boosters Ephraim P. Pectol and Joseph S. Hickman, Capitol Reef National Park comprises 378 square miles of colorful canyons, ridges, buttes, and monoliths. About 75 miles of the long up-thrust called the "Waterpocket Fold", extending like a rugged spine from Thousand Lake Plateau southward to Lake Powell, is preserved within the park boundary. "Capitol Reef" is the name of an especially rugged and spectacular park of the Waterpocket Fold near the Fremont River.

EARLY HISTORY
Only a few decades ago, Capitol Reef and the Waterpocket Fold country comprised one of the remote corners of the "lower 48". Easy road access came only with the construction of a paved Utah Hwy 24 through the Fremont River Canyon in 1962.

The earliest traces of human activity date from the 9th century when Indian peoples occupied the flood plains and high ground near the few perennial watercourses. These people - called the Fremont Culture by archeologists - were contemporaries of the pueblo-building Anasazi of the Four Corners area but were less advanced. In the 13th century, all Indian cultures in this area underwent sudden change; the Fremont Indian settlements and fields were abandoned. No one is sure what happened to these Fremont hunter-farmers.

Not for several centuries did significant human activity reappear. When the first white explorers traveled in the vicinity of the Waterpocket Fold, both Utes and Southern Paiute nomads were encountered.

Despite the fact that numerous expeditions passed near Capitol Reef, none of them explored the Waterpocket Fold to any great extent. It was, as now, incredibly rugged and forbidding.

Following the Civil War, Mormon church officials at Salt Lake City sought to establish "missions" in the remotest niches of the intermountain west. In 1866, a quasi-military expedition or Mormons in pursuit of marauding Indians penetrated the high valleys to the west. In the 1870s, settlers moved into these valleys, eventually establishing Loa, Fremont, Lyman, Bicknell, and Torrey. Meanwhile, men from the expeditions of Major John Wesley Powell had begun to explore the area.

In the early 1880s, settlers moved into Capitol Reef country. Tiny communities sprung up along the life-sustaining Fremont River; Junction (later "Fruita"), Caineville and Aldridge were created. Fruita prospered, Caineville barely survived, Aldridge died.

By 1920, the work was hard but the life in Fruita was good. No more than ten families at one time were sustained by the fertile flood plain of the Fremont River and the land changed ownership over the years. The area remaind isolated.

THE "FATHER OF CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL MONUMENT"
Ephraim Porter Pectol was born in 1875. As a child he lived in Caineville, another abortive Mormon settlement 20 miles east ot Capitol Reef. In 1910, he went into business in Torrey and operated a store there for many years. He served as Mormon Bishop of Torrey from 1911 until 1928.

Pectol was sensitive to the rugged beauty of the Capitol Reef area and was an avid Fremont culture relic hunter. A private museum in his Torrey store was widely known.

Pectol was anxious that the "outside world" should come to appreciate the beauty of the area. In 1921, he organized a "Boosters Club" in Torrey. Pectol pressed a promotional campaign, furnishing stories and photos to periodicals and newspapers. In his efforts, he was increasingly aided by his brother-in-law, Joseph S. Hickman, who was Wayne County High School principal.

In 1924, Hickman extended community involvement in the promotional effort by organizing a Wayne County-wide "Wayne Wonderland Club". In 1924, the educator was elected to the Utah State Legislature.

Pectol was elected to the presidency of the "Associated Civics Club of Southern Utah", successor to the Wayne Wonderland Club. The club raised $150.00 to interest a Salt Lake City photographer in taking a series of promotional photos. For several years, the photographer - J.E. Broaddus - traveled and lectured on "Wayne Wonderland".

In 1933, Pectol himself was elected to the legislature and almost immediately contacted President Roosevelt and asked for the creation of "Wayne Wonderland National Monument" out of the federal lands comprising the bulk of the Capitol Reef area. Federal agencies began a feasibility study and boundary assessment. Meanwhile, Pectol not only guided the government investigators on numerous trips, but escorted an increasing number of visitors. The lectures of Broaddus were having an effect.

On August 2, 1937, President Roosevelt signed a proclamation creating Capitol Reef National Monument.

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL MONUMENT
In Proclamation 2246, President Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres of the Capitol Reef area. This comprised an area extending about two miles north of present Utah Hwy 24 and about 10 miles south, just past Capitol Gorge. More highly protective federal regulations now applied in "Wayne Wonderland".

These Depression years were lean ones for the National Park Service (NPS), the new administering agency. Funds for the administration of Capitol Reef were nonexistent; it would be a long time before the first rangers would arrive.

CAPITOL REEF GETS A WATCHMAN
Charles Kelley was a man of diverse interests and great talent. Born in 1889, "Charlie" made his living as a linotype operator and printer. As he matured, a talent for writing, as well as printing, emerged.

Moving to Salt Lake City in 1919, Kelly began a love affair with the deserts and canyons of Utah that would last a lifetime. He concentrated his exploration energies on southern Utah and the Colorado River area. His interest in arch-ecology, as well as more recent history, grew.

He published his first book in 1930 - Salt Desert Trails. Five more books followed, the most well-known being Outlaw Trail, the story of Butch Cassidy. Scores of his articles were published by Deseret Magazine, The Utah Historical Quarterly, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Kelly developed an intense interest in Fremont and Anasazi rockart. On several of his trips, he passed through Fruita and came to know a colorful resident, Dr. Arthur L. Inglesby, a dentist retired from practice. "Doc" Inglesby was an avid rockhound who had come to know Capitol Reef intimately.

Inglesby and Kelly became friends and made numerous trips into the rugged butte and canyon country around Fruita. Kelly decided that he, too, would retire in Fruita.

Meanwhile, not much was happening with the administration of Capitol Reef National Monument, which had been placed under the control of Zion National Park. However, a stone ranger cabin and the Sulphur Creek bridge were built and some road work was performed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Works Project Administration). Kelly came to know NPS officials at Zion well and volunteered to "watchdog" the park for the NPS. In 1943, he was officially appointed "custodian-without-pay".

THE KELLY YEARS
Charles Kelly's retirement had been short. He was to work without pay as a volunteer until 1950 when the NPS offered him a civil service appointment as the first superintendent. At age 62, he got his first federal job at an age when most career NPS people have already retired.

Life was challenging for Kelly; he continued to write - mostly about Capitol Reef. During the 1950s, he was deeply troubled by NPS management acceding to demands of the Atomic Energy Commission that Capitol Reef National Monument be opened to uranium prospecting. He felt that the decision had been a mistake and destructive of the long term national interest. As it turned out, there was not enough ore to be worth mining in the monument.

It was not until 1958 that Kelly got additional permanent help in protecting the monument and enforcing regulations; Park Ranger Grant Clark transferred from Zion. The year Clark arrived, fifty-six thousand visitors came to the park and "Charlie" Kelly retired for the last time, full of years and experiences.

MISSION 66
During the 1960s (under the program name "Mission 66"), NPS areas nationwide received new facilities to meet the demand of mushrooming park visitation . At Capitol Reef, a 53-site campground at Fruita, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center were built, the latter opening in 1966.

Visitation climbed dramatically after the paved, all-weather road was built through the Fremont River canyon near Fruita and the old Capitol Gorge road closed. In 1967, 146,598 persons visited the park. The staff was also growing.

During the 1960s, the NPS proceeded to purchase private land parcels at Fruita and Pleasant Creek. Almost all private property passed into public ownership on a "willing buyer-willing seller" basis.

Preservationists successfully convinced President Johnson to set aside an enormous area of public lands in 1968, just before he left office. In Presidential Proclamation 3888, an additional 215,056 acres were placed under NPS control. By 1970, Capitol Reef National Monument comprised 254,251 acres and sprawled southeast from Thousand Lake Mountain almost to the Colorado River. The action was very controversial locally, and NPS staffing at the monument was inadequate to properly manage the additional land.

THE PARK CREATED BY CONGRESS
The vast enlargement of the monument and diversification of the scenic resources soon raised another issue: Whether or not Capitol Reef should be a national park, rather than a monument. Two bills were introduced into Congress.

A House bill (H.R. 17152) introduced by Utah Congressman Laurence J. Burton, called for an 180 thousand acre national park and an adjunct 48 thousand acre national recreation area where "multiple use" (including grazing) could continue indefinitely.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate bill S. 531 had already passed on July 1, 1970 as provided for a 230 thousand acre national park alone. The bill called for a 25 year phase-out of grazing.

In September 1970, Department of interior officials told a house subcommittee session that they preferred that about 254 thousand acres be set aside as a national park. Also, they recommened that the grazing phase-out period be 10 years, rather than 25. They did not favor the adjunct recreation area concept.

It was not until late 1971 that Congressional action was completed. By then, the 92nd Congress was in session and S. 531 had languished. A new bill, S. 29, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank M. Moss of Utah and was essentially the same as the defunct S. 531 except that it called for an additional 10,834 acres of public lands for a Capitol Reef National Park. In the House, Utah Representative Gunn McKay (with Representative Lloyd) had introduced H.R. 9053 to replace the dead H.R. 17152. This time around, the House bill dropped the concept of an adjunct Capitol Reef National Recreation Area and adoped the Senate concept of a 25 year limit on continued grazing.

The Deparment of Interior was still recommending a national park of 254,368 acres and a 10 year limit for grazing phase-out.

S. 29 passed the Senate in June and was sent to the House. The House subsequently dropped its own bill and passed the Senate version with an amendment. Since the Senate was not in agreement with the House amendment, differences were worked out in Conference Committee. The Conference Committee issued their agreeing report on November 30, 1971.

The legislation - "An Act to Establish The Capitol Reef National park in the State of Utah" - became Public Law 92-207 when it was signed by President Nixon on December 18, 1971.

 


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