Dinosaur National Monument to bring more jobs, money to Colorado, Utah

Diorite Peak, San Juan National Forest

Tom Harris USFS

Communities near northwest Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument are expected to experience a surge in jobs and economic growth in the near future thanks to the reopening of a long-awaited visitor center and exhibit hall that will give visitors an up-close look at the monument’s world-renowned dinosaur bones.

The new Quarry Visitor Center may double the number of visitors to Dinosaur National Monument annually, from 200,000 to 400,000, providing a significant economic driver in a region that has been heavily targeted by the oil and gas industry. Local gateway communities, such as Dinosaur, Colo., and Vernal, Utah, stand to benefit from the growth.

Visitors will now be able to view Dinosaur’s famed Carnegie Quarry, a 150-foot long by 50-foot high wall embedded with approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones—something visitors have been unable to do since the old visitor center closed its doors in 2006 due to structural problems.

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dedicated the new visitor center on Sept. 28, he was celebrating far more than a new building. He was stressing the important economic benefits that land conservation brings for local communities—a point The Wilderness Society has been working to impress upon a very anti-wilderness Congress this year.

"It's important we recognize that conservation and outdoor recreation are a huge pillar of our economy," Salazar said.

“Every dollar we invest in national parks and public lands returns an estimated $4 in economic growth, and I’m optimistic that will be the case with our investment in these new facilities,” he said.

In fact in the years since the old visitor center closed, Dinosaur National Monument had seen a decline in visitors from slightly more than 300,000 in 2005 to less than 200,00 last year. But even with the decrease, visitors to Dinosaur spent $6.6 million in the local community in 2009, according to a news release from Salazar’s office.

Despite the fact that conservation and outdoor recreation are significant economic drivers, some in Congress are on a rampage to slash conservation programs and give away pristine public lands to industry, including the oil and gas industry.

Members of Congress are even trying to end the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments like Dinosaur, which was designated by Woodrow Wilson.

A major focus of Wilderness Society work this fall will be to push back on these attacks to our wild public lands--attacks that will destroy pristine national lands and also undermine the economic benefits of outdoor recreation at a time when we need them the most.

Balancing act: Recreation and oil and gas in Greater Dinosaur

Dinosaur National Monument is at the center of Greater Dinosaur — an area centered around the iconic Green and Yampa Rivers, which draw families from around the country for spectacular float trips.   The monument is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of proposed wilderness including amazing Vermillion Basin, a colorful badlands area filled with deep canyons and interesting rock formations.  The region also boasts some of America’s most treasured populations of elk, mule deer, and the imperiled greater sage-grouse.

Oil and gas companies have sought to dominate greater Dinosaur’s economy. To the north, south, and west, the oil and gas industry has leased off massive swaths of public lands resulting in dwindling big-game herds, skyrocketing air pollution, and threats to some of America’s most iconic landscapes.

Yet as economists point out, sustainable local economies require a diversity of economic drivers as opposed to domination by one single industry,  which results in boom and bust cycles.

The Wilderness Society is working with local citizens, elected officials, and government agencies to ensure that energy development does not harm pristine lands and that it’s done in a way that protects the clean air, pure drinking water, outstanding wilderness, wildlife and recreation that make the region a tourist attraction. Recently we scored a victory for Greater Dinosaur’s Vermillion Basin, putting it off limits to drilling.

Greater Dinosaur is not only an area worth protecting but one that once protected and adequately promoted, can sustain the economies of northwest Colorado and Eastern Utah indefinitely. Learn more about The Wilderness Society’s Greater Dinosaur campaign.