In a meeting of national park superintendents in Wyoming this week, the director of the National Park Service once again voiced objections to a proposed land swap that would give Utah some land on the shores of Lake Powell. But the exchange is still a good idea.
The state wants to use the 60,000-acre exchange to open up the Utah side of the lake - part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - for commercial development that would provide both access and economic benefit to Utah.At present, most of the marinas, resorts, and other facilities - and the economic harvest - are on the Arizona side of the lake, while most of the lake itself is in Utah.
William Penn Mott, director of the National Park Service, says trading federal land along Lake Powell for state lands elsewhere, would only bring more people into the recreation area, more than it could handle.
Yet many of the same visitors now traveling to the lake - including Utahns - must take the long way around to the Arizona side. If Utah access were available, they would approach from the Utah side instead, without necessarily adding to the number of people on the lake.
Certainly, there must be limits on the number of people who use the lake, but opening up the Utah side would also expand the area of the lake easily available to visitors, thus perhaps easing the crowding.
Foes of the idea act as if the state is out to turn Lake Powell into a rural version of Times Square in New York. But Gov. Norm Bangerter has repeatedly insisted that any development will be slowly and carefully done, without harming the recreation area or the environment.
Fortunately, Mott's opposition to the land exchange does not automatically kill the idea, although there is some uncertainty as to just what approval is needed. Utah officials hope it could be done administratively by the Department of Interior, but action by Congress may be required.
A state task force, the Lake Powell Region Resource Development Council is studying what lands might be included in any trade, and also is examining what legal and political action is necessary.
The council does not have a specific deadline, but it should move quickly as possible. There are a lot of hurdles to be cleared, and every delay only adds to Utah's problems in making such a trade.