The idea of an Escalante National Park is not new, and it dates back to at least the early 1930s.

That's when former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes proposed a gigantic "Escalante National Monument." It included areas that became Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks, Natural Bridges National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area."But he felt the key and most scenic and important part of the area were the canyons around the Escalante River," said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. "But it has never become part of a national park, while the others did."

Owens - who fell in love with the area when he herded cattle there as a teenager in the early 1950s - himself again proposed the Escalante canyons for a park during his first term to Congress in 1973-75.

"I talked about it with many people, but there was no support for it then. So I never introduced a bill."

He said the park may now be an idea whose time has come because it would help solve fights over wilderness in southern Utah by protecting land but also creating a high-profile tourist attraction that could pump money into the local economy.

"Creating a park there is something I have dreamed of for 40 years and have worked for for 20 years. If people in Utah were united behind it, we could pass legislation for it quickly," he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which now administers the Escalante canyons, for decades has also proposed to make the area a national recreation area, scenic area or conservation area, said BLM spokesman Jerry Meredith.

"We've felt for a long time it deserves special status," he said. But the BLM doesn't want to lose control of it to the National Park Service.

If the area were to become a national park, it would be Utah's sixth - the most of any of the 48 contiguous states. Alaska has eight national parks, and California has five.