NEWS: Utah Committee on Geographic Names Votes on Grandstaff Canyon Proposal

Contact: Josh Loftin 
Utah Department of Heritage & Arts 
[email protected]


Utah Geographic Names Committee Votes on Grandstaff Canyon Proposal


SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Committee on Geographic Names has voted to not support the proposal to change the name of Negro Bill Canyon, located near Moab, to Grandstaff Canyon.

The committee found the lack of agreement from two prominent minority groups on the derogatory nature of the use of the term Negro in this context as a lack of compelling evidence to support the name change. The committee’s decision will be forwarded to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which holds the actual naming authority and will make a final determination about changing the name later this year. The state committee’s role is to review and provide a supporting or not-supporting vote for the formal U.S. Board review and vote. 

Found just outside of Moab, the canyon is a popular hiking, canyoneering, and climbing destination. The canyon was originally named for a 19th Century black prospector and rancher named William Grandstaff who for a time lived in this canyon near Moab.

Support of the name change to Grandstaff Canyon has been mixed but includes the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Grand County Council. Recognized as the name change proponent, the Grand County Council voted on January 3rd, 2017, to recommend changing the name of the canyon to Grandstaff Canyon. The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, a state organization focused on promoting diversity, equity and human rights, described the moniker Negro as a “racially offensive descriptor” in a letter to the committee.

The BLM, which manages the canyon, administratively changed the trailhead name to Grandstaff Canyon in September of last year. That trailhead name change did not need the approval of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. 

Those who have opposed the name change include Jeanetta Williams, president of the Tri-State Conference and Salt Lake Branch NAACP, the national office of the NAACP, and the Grand County Historic Preservation Commission. The basis for this position is largely related the desire to preserve the history of a minority community. In a letter to the committee Ms. Williams states, “The word Negro is not offensive in any way.”

A similar name change was proposed in 1999. At that time, no county or land management entity supported the name change. The NAACP also opposed the name change. The proposal failed at both the state and federal levels.

The Utah Committee on Geographic Names, which is comprised of professionals and interested citizen volunteers, each appointed by the governor, to review all proposed geographic names in Utah prior to forwarding to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for final vote. Those recommendations are only advisory but are considered by the federal board in their decision-making process.

As part of the review process the committee seeks the opinions of landowners or land managers, tribal, county, and local opinions. The committee generally meets quarterly if it has business to consider. The public can learn more about the process, propose a new geographic name, or request a change to an existing name through the Board of Geographic Names 


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