Nearly 30 years after Capitol Reef National Park swallowed up the early Mormon hamlet of Fruita, the National Park Service has had a change of heart.
A new management plan for Capitol Reef proposes to restore surviving cabins and install new exhibits explaining the early settlement that created an oasis amid the fiery red cliffs of Waterpocket Fold in southern Utah."We've realized that this part of our history has been neglected," says Capitol Reef National Park Superintendent Chuck Lundy. "We want to renovate and preserve the historic pioneer homes still standing, expand the trail system and better educate the visiting public about the local history."
Public workshops on the proposal for preserving Fruita, plus other guidelines for the future of Capitol Reef, will be held here on June 3 and in the town of Loa near the park on June 4.
The new general management plan's goal of preserving Fruita as a rural historic landscape departs from the park's current management plan that calls for removing the Sprang Cottage and Brimhall House, two original Fruita structures.
Pioneers began settling the valley at the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek in the 1880s, with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eventually developing a farming and ranching community that grew to 108 residents by 1920.
First called Junction, the town was renamed Fruita in recognition of the produce harvested from the orchards. Tourists were drawn to the community, and local boosters succeeded in 1937 in establishing Capitol Reef National Monument on lands adjacent to Fruita.
Residents gradually moved away, and in 1969 Capitol Reef was enlarged, eventually becoming a national park and putting the 200 acres of Fruita into public ownership.
Park Service employees razed most of the town's buildings and even began cutting down the namesake fruit orchard trees until local protests thwarted the clear-cut.
Early last year, Fruita was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The proposed management plan is intended to guide development and management of Capitol Reef National Park through the next 15 years and is the result of numerous meetings with park users and comments from visitors.
"What we heard most of all is `This is a neat park, don't change it,' " says Whitney Kreiling of Capitol Reef. "We feel this plan recognizes this park is largely a wilderness resource."
Park visitation has increased 127 percent since 1982, with more than 734,000 people entering the park annually. Plans call for expanding the visitor center and parking areas, modernizing rest-rooms and building an interagency visitor center outside the park.
In addition to preserving the park's resources against the crush of visitors, the management plan seeks to study collecting a parkwide entrance fee, move employee residences, maintenance buildings and some offices outside the park, and explore alternative transportation - such as a shuttle system - for Scenic Drive.