New law protecting state parks proposed in response to goblin topplers

Posted at 10:40 PM, Nov 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-22 00:40:51-05

UTAH COUNTY -- It's been six weeks since former Boy Scout leaders toppled an ancient rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park; they still haven't been criminally charged, but their actions have inspired a new law aimed at state park vandalism.

The incident caused outrage after video of the men toppling the formation surfaced online.

"I've had a lot of calls from constituents upset about what happened, the idea that the people who did this destruction would be let go under some type of provision of vandalism or a graffiti charge, it goes more than that," said Ogden Representative Dixon Pitcher.

Pitcher is sponsoring a bill he calls “Archeological Amendments.”

"It needs to be to the point where if they're caught doing these particular malicious acts upon the treasures of Utah, if they're destroying our property, then they'll be put in jail,” he said. “There could be a fine, a very stiff fine. I would think in the area of $10,000 to $15,000 would be a start, so we would penalize people financially."

Pitcher said he has reasons for setting so stiff a fine.

"We need to make the penalty severe enough that they won't even consider it,” he said.

There are several reasons the goblin topplers haven’t been criminally charged. There are only a couple of investigators working the case, and they’re still waiting for evidence to return from a lab and they want to be thorough since all eyes are on Utah.

The case has not been turned over to the Emery County Attorney, but once it’s in his hands he has limited legal options. He can only work with general vandalism and/or criminal mischief charges.

"Right now the laws don't really address natural conditions,” said Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes. “State law doesn't really take geological features with the same severity as an Anasazi pot or something along those lines."

Hayes supports Pitcher’s bill, even though on average there are only half a dozen major acts of vandalism at Utah’s 43 state parks every year. Most cases involve minor incidents, such as damaged park benches and tagged bathrooms or other park facilities.

“The Goblin Valley incident will go down as the most notable to date,” Hayes said. “That's sad to say. We don't want to encourage people to beat that."