Pruning the Parks: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Was a National Park for Just Five Years
Between 1930 and 1994, Congress transferred 23 units of the National Park System to “other custody,” mostly to other federal agencies or to state and municipal governments. Few were surprised that Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Utah-Wyoming (mostly Utah) was one of the delisted units.
There was no real sense of loss when, on October 1, 1968, Congress transferred Flaming Gorge NRA to the U.S. Forest Service. Congress hadn’t mandated National Park Service administration for Flaming Gorge, and the Park Service wasn’t deeply committed to reservoir recreation management.
Flaming Gorge Dam is located on the Green River in northeastern Utah about 200 miles east of Salt Lake City. The dam, an authorized storage unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, impounds 91-mile long Lake Flaming Gorge (a.k.a. “the Gorge”).
The reservoir has three marinas and ten boat ramps on its 300 miles of shoreline and is noted for great boating and fishing (trout, salmon, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish). Below the dam, the Green River offers excellent rafting as well as some of the nation’s finest trout fishing.
The dam was completed in 1962 and the dam and reservoir system was fully operational by 1967. The Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam and power plant, while the Western Area Power Administration markets the power (nearly 51,000 kilowatts).
An administrative agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation that was inked on July 22, 1963, made the recreational management of Lake Flaming Gorge a National Park Service responsibility. Thus, without a Congressional mandate – there was no specific act of Congress -- Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area became a unit of the National Park System.
This administrative agreement occurred at a time when the National Park Service was becoming less interested in the recreational management of impoundments in the western states and more interested in the management of parks located close to population centers (especially in or close to metro areas). The Flaming Gorge agreement was, in brief, a custodial arrangement not destined to last any longer than it had to.
Lake Flaming Gorge and the NRA focused on it are wholly contained within the 1.38 million acre Ashley National Forest, a high and rugged wilderness and backcountry area ranging from about 6,000 to 13,000 feet in elevation. Given this fact, it was only natural that the Forest Service should be put in charge of the recreational management of Lake Flaming Gorge as well as the stretch of the Green River flowing through the Ashley National Forest. The Forest Service was amenable to this new arrangement -- call it a rearrangement, if you will -- and so Congress ordered it on October 1, 1968. Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area had been a National Park Service responsibility for just five years.
Post script: Flaming Gorge NRA wasn’t the only reservoir-based recreation area that the National Park Service was happy to get rid of. The NPS transferred the Shasta Lake and Shadow Mountain Recreation Areas to the Forest Service in 1948 and 1979, respectively, while the Lake Texoma Recreation Area reverted to the Corps of Engineers in 1949 and the Millerton Lake Recreation Area went to the state of California in 1957.