SALT LAKE CITY – It’s no secret, Utah’s backyard is a bucket-list stop for people all over the world. While national parks are drawing big crowds, Utah’s state parks are also seeing record numbers. Now, state park managers are trying to make room to accommodate them.
Five years ago, a scathing audit showed the State Parks Department was in financial trouble and had to make drastic changes. Fast forward to today, and now there's talk about expanding state parks and revitalizing existing ones such as the Great Salt Lake State Park.
“You can come out here and kind of be isolated but still nice and close to Salt Lake,” said Janessa Edwards, with Friends of Great Salt Lake, a nonprofit group.
Visit any of the 43 state parks in the Beehive State and you’re not alone. The number of visitors is up 11% this year at 4.5 million.
“One of the remarkable things state parks has done they really focused on visitor experience and getting people out and enjoying the wonderful experiences in the state parks beyond the picnic table and a pretty view,” said Jay Kinghorn with Utah Office of Tourism.
While the state welcomes big crowds, accommodations are becoming tight.
“Our parks are full on a given weekend right now,” said Fred Hayes, Director of Division of Parks and Recreation.
Hayes has laid out an ambitious vision to lawmakers to expand or improve state parks. Some ideas he has in mind include: putting a park in all 29 counties in the state, and add another marina at Bear Lake.
“It can be a two- to three-hour adventure just to get on the water and that much more to get off the water,” Hayes said.
Hayes would also like to expand Goblin Valley and Goosenecks State Parks.
“This is a discussion starter as to what we can do. I don’t think any of us believe we’re going to go out there and build 43 more state parks,” Hayes said.
There are a couple projects already underway, which include Steinaker State Park near Vernal and a $5 million expansion at the popular Dead Horse Point Campground.
“Dead Horse point is traditionally one of our busiest parks,” Hayes said.
Hayes believes a big part of their success is the trickle over from the “Mighty Five” advertising campaign.
“Our visitation is through the roof,” Hayes said.
State park managers are reluctant to use the word "plan" right now. The so-called "discussion starters" will play out at the upcoming legislative session and managers hope to have a more concrete plan to present to the public.