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The passing years have peeled away a lot, though hardly all, of the rancor. Visitor centers have sprouted up around the periphery. And hundreds of thousands of tourists from all parts of the globe come to see it every year.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument itself hasn't changed much as its 10th anniversary approaches. But that is fitting, because more than anything else, the 1.9 million-acre swath of twisting canyons and rugged plateaus in southern Utah was set aside as a testament to timelessness.

"The sheer scope of the wild places there makes it unique," says Bill Hedden, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust. "What we have here is one of the great treasures of wilderness in the lower 48 states. That's how it can best be appreciated. And that's how it should be celebrated."

Of course, not everyone will be celebrating when federal officials and supporters ring in Monday's anniversary, a decade after President Clinton signed the presidential proclamation creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante from a perch overlooking the Grand Canyon, in Arizona.

"I feel about the same way as the day they created it. It was a bad idea," says Garfield County Commissioner Maloy Dodds. "It's been bad for the counties, bad for the country. It's tied up all our natural resources. It took away a big part of our economic future. A lot has been lost with this."

Certainly, the monument's birth was fraught with politics. Clinton was campaigning hard for re-election that fall and seeking to shore up the green portion of his base - attempts to ram wilderness legislation through the GOP-led Congress had stalled, and he was running neck and neck with Bob Dole in Arizona at the time.

Utah? Then, as now, the Beehive State was among the reddest in the nation. Clinton had no shot at Utah's five electoral votes and, by extension, nothing to lose in creating a national monument there the size of Connecticut.

Vice President Al Gore, who attended the signing ceremony, said the president's action put him on par with Teddy Roosevelt in the pantheon of executive branch conservation.

"It takes courage to take a step like this. It takes guts," Gore said then.

Then-Congressman Bill Orton of Utah called it something else. The 3rd District Democrat - along with other state leaders - was held at bay by administration officials in the days leading up to Clinton's monument announcement. Grand Staircase's creation played no small role in Orton's loss to Republican Chris Cannon that November. Orton remains bitter.

"They lied to my face, which shows you the kind of backstabbing that goes on, even within one's own political party," says the now Salt Lake City-based attorney.

Worse, Orton adds, "There was no public debate. No policy discussion. No scientific research. This all happened because somebody had an epiphany."

The initial Utah reaction to Clinton's monument was fierce. Anti-monument rallies were staged in Kanab. Clinton and then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt were denounced in Escalante. Lawsuits were filed within days.

This wasn't the first time locals reacted strongly to a presidential land-use decree. Wyoming residents were apoplectic when Franklin Roosevelt created Grand Teton National Monument in 1943, depriving them of grazing and timber resources. The monument became Grand Teton National Park about seven years later.

"Every time there has been a bold conservation decision, there has also been a lot of controversy," says Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "Then, with the passage of time, it becomes appreciated. That's certainly true in Utah. And there's a lesson here. It proves it's a wise decision to protect the beauty of the state."

According to a study in April by Utah State University's Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, 91 percent of those visitors stopped in Kane and Garfield counties, spending $20.6 million at 21 different kinds of businesses. Add to that another $5 million from the more than 430 full-time jobs those visitors helped generate.

It also has proved an increasingly popular decision. Scientists have flocked to the monument in search of archaeological and paleontological treasures. And though its visitorship pales next to Utah's national-park heavyweights - Zion and Bryce Canyon - The Grand Staircase lures an estimated 600,000-plus people annually, putting it in the same ballpark as Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.

"The Escalante Canyons have been a drawing card for a long time. But just talking to business owners, it's pretty clear that they're seeing an increase in tourism because of the monument," says Mike Satter, president of Grand Staircase-Escalante partners, a Kanab-based organization that serves as a liaison between the Bureau of Land Management - which oversees the monument - and the communities that surround it.

"Because of the Internet and media coverage, the monument is known around the world," Satter adds.

Will that eventually replace what was potentially lost with the monument designation? Southern Utah political leaders say no.

"I don't think there's any question the monument has created economic activity," says Sen. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch. "But the economic loss we sustained in terms of the future, I don't think we'll ever make up what was lost. I don't know a soul that wouldn't agree that there are areas [of the monument] that deserve world-class protection. But it was the size of the monument and the way it was done that left a bad taste."

State and local leaders particularly bemoan the loss of the 60-acre Andalex coal-mine project on the Kaiparowits Plateau in the southeastern portion of the monument. Those potential economic losses, they claim, run into the billions.

"It was a shortsighted decision," Orton says. "The reality is, the world is going to be using coal for the next 50 or 100 years. Are we going to use the dirtiest coal in the world, creating acid rain and air pollution? Or are we going to use the cleanest-burning coal that could have been developed with the least environmental impact? That's what we're leaving in the ground on the Kaiparowits."

Environmentalists dispute those assertions. Beyond the logistics of digging out that coal, Grand Canyon Trust director Hedden says committing to an extractive economy would have been a crapshoot, at best.

"I guess if you wished your kid was working in a coal mine, then maybe they lost something," he says. "But they also would have wedded themselves to that future. Take a drive through a place like Helper [a coal-mining city in eastern Utah]. They are the communities that time has left behind."

Though the last lawsuit challenging Clinton's creation of the monument was quashed earlier this summer, it's not as though the county-federal conflicts over management of the Grand Staircase have ended.

Garfield and Kane counties have fought a series of pitched legal battles against the Interior Department over roads, grazing and water rights. New monument manager Brad Exton, who starts work Monday, already has tried to lay some groundwork for a smoother relationship.

Kane County commissioners "have already seen a lot of me," he says. But the core conflicts will not vanish anytime soon.

Still, the tenor of the discussions has changed. After all, even the monument's most vehement critics acknowledge that it is here to stay.

"We're still fighting the battle," Garfield County Commissioner Dodds says, "but it's gone from doing away with the monument to gaining access for things like grazing and even tourism."

Check back in another decade.