Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks: America’s Next National Park?

July 10, 2009, 8:44 am

Southern Utah, home to arguably the greatest concentration natural scenic wonders in the country, may soon have another of its stunning landscapes designated as a national park.

If local park enthusiasts have their way, Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City, Utah, may become a national park.Cedar Breaks National Monument is located about halfway between Zion and Bryce Canyon. Photo courtesy Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau.

As part of a community push that started about three years ago, a national park designation for Cedar Breaks would not only mean a potential increase in visitation, but also an expansion that would more than double the park’s land area.

The defining feature at Cedar Breaks is a giant natural amphitheater with intricate ridges, pinnacles and buttresses that have been carved away from the steep cliffs by 30 million years of erosion. The stunning gorge’s orange, red and yellow hues seem to glow under the Southwest sun, and Bristlecone Pines, the world's oldest living tree species, grow in abundance along the rim.

With more than 500,000 visitors a year, Cedar Breaks is no doubt a popular National Park System site. But as a national monument, it lacks the “name brand” that tends to draw visitors to nearby national parks, including Arches and Bryce Canyon, which can receive between one and two million visitors annually.

“The traveling public tends to have more of an affinity toward national parks,” said Maria Twitchell, Executive Director of the nearby Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism & Convention Bureau.

“They don’t understand that a national monument isn’t necessarily a stone tower or statue, and we spend a lot of our time here trying to dispel that belief,” she said.

The main difference between the two designations is that a national park is declared by an act of Congress, while a national monument is declared by the president. Although all units of the National Park System (including national parks, monuments, seashores, recreation areas and historic sites) have equal legal standing, the new designation could mean a new influx of visitors to Cedar Breaks.Flanigan Arch in the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness, spans nearly 200 feet. Photo courtesy Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau.

“It seems only natural that people planning a national park vacation would include the new park in their itinerary,” Twitchell said of Cedar Breaks, which is less than a two-hour drive from both Bryce Canyon and Zion.

The proposed expansion that would likely come along with national park status would mean twice the amount of land for Cedar Breaks visitors to explore. It would join Cedar Breaks with the neighboring Ashdown Gorge Wilderness to add approximately 7,000 acres to the park.

“The expansion would add backcountry camping and hiking opportunities to help make a more complete visitor experience,” said Paul Roelandt, Superintendent at Cedar Breaks.

Ashdown Gorge is currently part of the federally managed Dixie National Forest, and is home to Flanigan Arch, a spectacular stone arch spanning almost 200 feet. Thought to be one of the longest arches of its type in the region, the arch itself was considered for national monument status in 1916.The hike into Lower Ashdown Gorge requires numerous creek crossings. Photo courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument.

In addition to this natural treasure, Cedar Breaks also stands to gain 10 miles of maintained hiking trails and a coveted unmarked hiking route into Lower Ashdown Gorge, which many consider similar to Zion’s legendary Subway Hike. The scenery along these trails includes beautiful waterfalls, winding slot canyons and numerous rock formations, including a 100-foot pockmarked monolith locally referred to as “Tom’s Head.”

While there is no exact timeline for when Cedar Breaks may get national park designation, local proponents are hopeful. According to Twitchell, there has been a significant amount of support from the community, as well as from local environmental groups, county commissioners and local universities.

If an agreement can be reached regarding the few remaining private inholdings located between the two joining portions, the national park proposal would then make its way to Congress—getting Cedar Breaks one step closer to a spot on the itineraries of travelers in the southwest’s famed Grand Circle.

UPDATE: The Iron County Commission in Parowan, Utah, met in mid-September, 2009, to discuss the possible change. Get the details here.