National Park Service units provide great diversification for the local economy, says Brad L. Wallis, a Vernal businessman recently elected president of the Conference of National Park Cooperating Associations.
Cooperating associations are the volunteer groups that operate bookstores and produce information for NPS units. A total of 64 such associations are members of the conference, each representing anywhere from a single association for a small historical site, to 100 parks and monuments.The income of each association can vary between $2,000 to $15 million a year. All of the money that the non-profit groups make is given to the park unit they serve. It goes for everything from pamphlets to building new displays.
"We need development, but we also have to keep in mind that the environment is a finite resource," said Wallis, a regional loan officer for Deseret Federal Savings and Loan Association. "Without it, we're not going to have much quality in life."
He was elected president of the group during its national convention in Tucson, Ariz., last month. He has been involved for eight years with the Dinosaur Nature Association, which aids Dinosaur National Monument.
Even though the Dinosaur group is relatively small, he points out that it has donated more than $300,000 to the national monument since he joined. "Donations go directly to visitors' assistance," he said. "Things that will enhance the visitor's experience."
"We're not out to compete with T-shirt sales, painted mugs, this sort of thing. We're strictly interpretive material," he said.
Among other projects, the Dinosaur Nature Association paid for casts of an allosaurus and a rare juvenile camasaurus. The association has also produced interpretive publications about the dinosaur quarry and is working on a video tape.
"It's really exciting to me to see all of the boards are volunteers, people who are interested in the parks and are interested in the sites throughout the nation. They are professional people in many cases, artists, lawyers, doctors."
About 2,500 of them were at the national convention, each a selected board member or officer of his local organization.
"We represent not only national parks, but also national monuments and historical sites in every state in the union."
Wallis said people should keep the importance of nature in mind.
"I'm not an ecologist, okay? I believe in development, I believe in economic growth - but I also believe that there has to be balance, that you cannot just throw the environment away in the headlong rush for economic development."
He enjoys backpacking in the Uintas and said he would consider himself a failure if he were not able to help preserve this kind of country for his children. "I feel some of these natural resources cannot be replaced, and they're something we need to take concern to pass on to future generations."
In years past, the associations were staffed mostly by Park Service employees or their relatives. But in 1980, Congress told the NPS to get private citizens involved. One result of this process is that people like Wallis became more important in running the associations, both on the local and national levels.
Wallis endorses a move to upgrade Dinosaur to a national park. Although some worry that there could be restrictions on growth, maybe because of air quality rules, he thinks the same kind of accommodations could be made as were done with the creation of Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
People would begin to realize that Dinosaur has much more to offer than its world-famous fossil quarry. "We have a tremendous resource in terms of canyons and rivers and wildlife, that maybe people don't perceive."
Although he has been president of the local Lion's Club, a member of the Vernal Chamber of Commerce and on the nature group's board of directors, Wallis said he never imagined he would end up president of a national organization.