Park Founders

"Whereas certain public lands in the State of Utah contain narrow canyons displaying evidence of ancient sand dune deposits of unusual scientific value, and have situated thereon various other objects of geological and scientific interest; and Whereas it appears that it would be in the public interest to reserve such lands as a national monument, to be known as the Capitol Reef National Monument..."

-Proclamation No. 2246 on August 2, 1937, Page 136 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Black and white aerial photo of the Waterpocket Fold, a large monocline. A bit of a plane wing is in the middle of the photo
In 1935, Zion National Park's Superintendent Preston Patraw flew over the proposed monument.

NPS/ Preston Patraw

Becoming a National Monument

Local residents (including the Fremont Culture and Mormon pioneers) have long appreciated the Capitol Reef region for its natural beauty and many resources. As early as 1914, entrepreneur (and later Utah Legislature representative) Ephraim Portman Pectol and his brother-in-law (and Utah Legislative Senator) Joseph S. Hickman worked to protect the Capitol Reef area first as a state park, and later as a national monument. Pectol and Hickman valued the natural and cultural resources they found as they explored the Waterpocket Fold, and wanted to share these wonders with other people. They also hoped tourism could boost the local economy, the way it did when Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks were established. Pectol and Hickman took photos and wrote stories about “Wayne Wonderland” to promote the region on a statewide level.

Less than a week after the Utah Legislature created a Board of State Park Commissioners, with the goal of establishing new state parks, including “Wayne Wonderland State Park,” Hickman drowned in nearby Fish Lake. With Hickman’s death, much of the statewide support for a park was lost, and not regained until the 1930s. In 1932, the National Park Service sent Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Roger Toll to visit Wayne County, and he reported that “the area seems worthy of future investigation.”

In 1933, with newly elected Pectol in the Utah Legislature, Governor Henry Hooper Blood signed a resolution to the United States Congress detailing proposed boundaries for a park in Wayne County, and the local support behind it. Pectol also wrote to National Park Service Director Horace Albright, encouraging him to consider establishing a monument or park. Toll once again visited Wayne County, and spent four days with Pectol, exploring the region. Toll reported that the Chimney Rock area (near Utah Highway 24) included “narrow gorges, sandstone cliffs, two natural bridges, archeological remains, pictographs, petrified trees," and other interesting features.

For a few years, national and state officials went back and forth on proposed boundaries for the future monument, as well as a name. In 1935, Pectol and Toll settled on the name Capitol Reef National Monument, since “Wayne Wonderland” indicated a much more locally focused area.

In 1937, all the promotional photographs, stories, and determination paid off, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt set aside 37,711 acres as Capitol Reef National Monument. This comprised an area extending about two miles north of present Utah Highway 24 and about ten miles south, just past Capitol Gorge.

Learn more about the early days of Capitol Reef National Monument, and the details of how it was established.

Black and white photo of man wearing a park service uniform and flat hat, standing in front of a stone building.
Charles Kelly was devoted to Capitol Reef National Monument, working unpaid to protect its unique natural and cultural resources.

NPS/ Natt Dodge and Paul Franke

First Superintendent

Charles Kelly began a love affair with the deserts and canyons of Utah that would last a lifetime after he moved to Salt Lake City in 1919. He concentrated his exploration energies on southern Utah and the Colorado River area and his interest in archeology, as well as more recent history, grew. In 1943, Charles Kelly was appointed "custodian-without-pay" at Capitol Reef National Monument. Harriette, Kelly's wife, also worked unpaid. He continued 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 held his first federal job.

From 1938 to 1942, during Kelly's tenure at Capitol Reef, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a multi-use stone building, improved roads, and worked on bridges and trails. Some CCC work was later destroyed by flash floods in Sulphur Creek and the Fremont River.

Mission 66

National Park Service (NPS) areas nationwide received new facilities to meet the demand of increasing park visitation under the program name Mission 66 during the 1960s. "Mission 66" was a nod to the 50th Anniversary of the National Park Service (established in 1916). The Fruita Campground, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center were built at Capitol Reef during this time.

Visitation climbed dramatically after the paved road (Utah Highway 24) was built through the Fremont River canyon near Fruita, and the old Capitol Gorge road closed in 1962. By 1967, nearly 150,000 people were visiting the park annually and the staff was growing. The NPS proceeded to purchase private land parcels at Fruita and Pleasant Creek. Most private property passed into public ownership on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis.

Black and white photo of four men and one woman standing in front of stone building with Visitor/ Capitol/ National on it.
People instrumental in advocating for Capitol Reef National Park to be established gathered for a dedication ceremony on April 7, 1972. From the left: Senator Frank Moss; Judy Hamer; Governor Calvin Rampton; Capitol Reef National Park Superintendent William Wallace; & Representative K. Gunn McKay.

NPS/ N. Salisbury

A New National Park

Two bills were introduced into Congress in 1970 to determine if Capitol Reef should become a national park. The Department of Interior officials recommended that 254,000 acres be set aside as a national park. They also recommended a ten-year grazing phase-out period, to protect and conserve the land.

A year later, 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 Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971. A formal dedication ceremony took place on April 7, 1972, with Utah Governor Calvin Rampton, Representative K. Gunn McKay, Senator Frank Moss, and National Park Service Midwest Region Director J. Leonard Volz in attendance, among others.

Travel backwards on Capitol Reef's timeline of human history and learn about the Pioneer Settlers.

Last updated: December 27, 2020

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