Dinosaurland and Eastern Utah Feature
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Environmental Controversy at Echo Park
Few public land controversies tell the tale of the modern environmental movement like the debate over the Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument.
To achieve economic expansion after World War II and encourage settlement in the arid American West, the federal Bureau of Reclamation created the Colorado River Compact, a proposal to build a series of hydroelectric dams on the West's greatest river. One of these proposed dams was at Echo Park, in the heart of the remote Dinosaur National Monument, where two Colorado River tributaries, the Green and the Yampa, meet.
Although relatively unknown Dinosaur National Monument wasn't the public icon that parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon were, the dam proposal galvanized a number of environmental organizations. The National Parks Association, Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, and Wilderness Society began an unprecedented national campaign to raise awareness of the potentially submerged national monument. Together, they raised the question: if national parks and monuments—areas that are supposedly under government protection—could not escape development, how could we safeguard these stunning places?
Through photographs, these organizations showcased the area's astounding geologic history, wild white-water rivers, spectacular canyons, and role as a wildlife haven. Historians view the Echo Park Dam controversy as the start of an era—the first time conservation organizations used their voices to oppose government actions on public lands. When Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay announced in 1955 that the Echo Park Dam project would not go forward, it was the first of several major conservationist victories that led to future legislation to protect the nation's resources, including the Wilderness Act (1964) and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968).
As a result of the Echo Park controversy, the U.S. public began to understand the value of national parks and monuments, even those located in extremely remote locations. The word "environmental" had entered the American vocabulary.
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