Robert Waite enjoyed the recent Olympics. Especially when the dinosaurs made their appearance.
When Dystophaeus and Allosaurus, as played by Donny and Marie Osmond, were introduced at closing ceremonies as Utah's "first family," Waite sat in his Sugar House home and beamed. The higher profile for dinosaurs the better, that's what he thinks. And that's not just because Bob's a big fan of dinosaurs. It's because for the past 15 years he has been involved in a crusade that has dinosaurs at its core.
Bob wants to see Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal upgraded to Dinosaur National Park.
The difference between a national monument and a national park, Bob will be happy to tell you if you'll give him five seconds, is the difference between a Happy Meal and chateaubriand."When you're a national park, you're a destination," says a man with a doctorate in geography from UCLA who now spends 95 percent of his time, and a good deal of his money, on this single cause. "When you're a national monument, you're just someplace along the way to somewhere else."
You're probably thinking this is a bit far-fetched: a solitary man in Salt Lake making it his life's work to change a monument to a park.
But do not sell Dr. Bob short.
Ever hear of Great Basin National Park in Nevada?
Bob did it.
That one took him about 20 years. It started when he was a graduate student at UCLA and talked his professors into letting him try to get a national park for Nevada, a state devoid of any national parks.
A seven-pound, 1,000-page doctoral dissertation and two decades of lobbying Congress and Nevada officials later, little old Lehman Caves National Monument was turned into Great Basin National Park.At the dedication ceremonies on Aug. 15, 1987, Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt heaped praise on the one man who made it all possible: Dr. Robert Starr Waite.
With Great Basin in the N.P. family, Dr. Bob, a Salt Lake native who graduated from South High and the University of Utah before going to UCLA, turned his attention to his home state.
For the past 15 years, much of it spent on site at the national monument, he has prepared a dissertation on Dinosaur's qualifications to be a national park. This dissertation runs about 333 pages, a third of Great Basin's. That's because Dinosaur is a less difficult argument. It easily meets the "four pillars" requirements to qualify for park status namely geology (the monument has rocks a billion years old, among the oldest on Earth), biology (from bighorn sheep to peregrine falcons), archaeology (among its treasures, DNM has the world's most perfectly fossilized dinosaur skeleton, complete with skin) and history (everything from Father Escalante's expedition to Butch Cassidy's constant travel along an authentic part of the Outlaw Trail).
What Bob is asking for is hardly unusual. Plenty of national monuments have been turned into national parks. Four of Utah's current national parks Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Arches were all upgraded from monument status. It took Bryce Canyon one year, Zion 10 years, Capitol Reef 35 years and Arches 41 years.Dinosaur has been a national monument for 86 years, since 1915. That's long enough, says Robert Waite. Just change the signs and be done with it. And let Dr. Bob move on to another good cause.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.