Utah State Parks Increase 5.8% in 2012 Visits

February 14, 2013 by · Comments Off on Utah State Parks Increase 5.8% in 2012 Visits 

Utah State Parks employees have worked hard the past few years to develop programs and create experiences to pull in more visitors.

Their efforts seem to be reaping benefits.

The state agency reported a 5.78% jump in visitation from 2011 to 2012 with more than 5 million visits last year, up from 4.8 million the previous year, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

More visitors also mean more money, and roughly $1.175 million was collected due to the increase. That money will go back into operations, management and renovations.

“We would love to reach around and pat ourselves on the back for doing it all, but the economy continues to play a role as people are tending to stay a little closer to home,” said Utah State Parks Director Fred Hays. “Maybe Utahns are going out and discovering things to do in Utah and then going back to them or taking in other parks.”

The water-based parks and local hiking/wildlife viewing parks dominated visitation in 2012, but Hays said he is impressed with the growth in smaller “community-type” parks and even museums.

Utah State Parks Delving into Social Media

December 26, 2012 by · Comments Off on Utah State Parks Delving into Social Media 

Managers and employees at some of the 43 units of Utah State Parks are exploring a new venue for connecting with the public: social media.

Utah State Parks has long had a Facebook page, but it was limited to one “super” page that represented all of the parks and was managed out of the Salt Lake City office, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

At a meeting in November some state parks staffers said they wanted to create Facebook pages for each park and be in charge of content.

One of the mandates pushed by Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes since he was named to the position a year ago was giving parks more control of their own destiny. Because the requests seem to fit that mandate, permission was given and 16 parks have created Facebook pages. One, Snow Canyon State Park, is allowing a friends of the park group to manage a page. Even the Off-Highway Vehicle Program of Utah State Parks created a page.

“One of my initiatives as director is to give more local control to the parks. Social media is one inexpensive marketing tool managers can use to grow their parks locally,” Hayes said.

Some parks, like Antelope Island, Dead Horse Point and Wasatch Mountain, dove into the social media world while others are dipping their toes in slowly to see how the water feels.

“Facebook pages are totally voluntary. We want park staff to see this as an opportunity to promote their parks, programs, and events,” said Hollie Brown, who recently took on the title of digital media coordinator for Utah State Parks. “The social media concept is new for a lot of our park managers, but we are excited about the opportunities.”


Utah’s Outdoor Rec Vision Plan on Fast Track

October 31, 2012 by · Comments Off on Utah’s Outdoor Rec Vision Plan on Fast Track 

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

During a meeting with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) in August, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was asked if his state had a vision plan for outdoor recreation.

His response, as the governor’s environmental adviser recalls, was something like “I’m not sure we do, but it sounds like a pretty good idea.”

Spurred by that question, and wanting an answer that could help Utah keep OIA’s winter and summer trade shows, which pour an estimated $40 million into the state economy — Herbert has moved to create the Outdoor Recreation Vision plan, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The governor has the plan on a fast track for completion before the group holds its 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22-26.

The OIA has tangled with Utah leaders over land-use policy, citing that as one reason it’s weighing moving its trade shows out of state.

Utah’s conservative political leaders see public lands development as a means to fire up the economy — with the private sector’s help. And, while Herbert has formed a “Balanced Resources Council” to guide him, he also has backed Sagebrush Rebellion-style legislation intended to press for a state takeover of millions of acres of federal lands.

Utah State Capitol

In contrast, the recreation industry sees public lands as a rich opportunity for customers to enjoy the outdoors, especially the kind of wildland experiences offered by Utah’s mountains and redrock canyons. Industry leaders bristled this summer after one of their own, Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf, was reprimanded by the governor for denouncing the state Legislature’s pro-development “attack” on public lands. Metcalf was invited by Herbert to quit his Balanced Resources Council if he couldn’t work in the “spirit of collaboration,” and later resigned.

Herbert’s vision-plan committee met last weekat the state Capitol to review input from the governor’s Balanced Resources Council on a vision plan and guiding principles outlined in the first meeting last month.

Alan Matheson, the governor’s senior environmental adviser, said Wednesday the group is making “good strides and participating enthusiastically and constructively.”

“We have put together a diverse group of folks dedicated to outdoors recreation in many different ways,” Matheson said. “We looked around and we are not aware of any other state that has an outdoor plan. The governor recognizes the important value of outdoor recreation and is serious about this.”

But recognizing that value and translating it into action by Utah policy-makers and legislators are two different things.

“If the governor puts his weight behind this and it becomes a policy document, this will be groundbreaking for outdoor recreation in Utah,” said George Sommer, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council, who is serving as the voice of anglers on the advisory group. “If it is indeed a policy document, then it is on par with the energy plan and that gives us recognition of the value we are putting into Utah’s economy.”

Members of the Outdoor Industry Association started last week’s meeting by commending the Utah governor for “initiating a process to define a recreation vision for the state.”

The group also provided input on “Outdoor Industry Guiding Principles” and listed “opportunities to promote outdoor recreation-related policy and programs” based on four categories: Investment; Federal Advocacy; Policy Reform and Land Protection.

“To effectively execute a recreation vision, Utah policy makers must commit to providing the opportunities and experiences and protecting the lands and waters upon which recreation and the outdoor economy depend,” read the draft provided to the committee.

“Just as the state has a 10-year energy plan, long-range vision and planning around outdoor recreation must be given equal weight in Utah policy circles, land and water funding, planning and management. Such a commitment does not preclude necessary resource development and extraction, but fosters a balanced economy and balanced resource management predicated on a 21st-century understanding of jobs and economic activity related to recreation, resource extraction and agriculture/ranching.”

OIA suggests investments in trails, open space, state parks, exploring corporate donors and creating an Outdoor Recreation Incentive fund to attract outdoor companies to Utah.

Under policy reform, the OIA:

  • Called for a stay on RS2477 lawsuits, referring to a legal tug-of-war between federal and local governments over access to countless unpaved roads across the country.
  • Suggested a full cost/benefit analysis of HB148, in which Utah asks the federal government to give back some 20 million acres of public land, and a proposed sales tax earmark for water development.
  • Implored the state to develop water conservation measures.
  • Promoted a “specific and rational” policy on stream access.
  • Urged Utah to push the Western Governors’ Association on policy resolutions promoting outdoor recreation, recreation economies and federal funding for public lands and recreation management in the West.

As for land protections, the OIA suggested protecting and promoting federal lands and waters (including wilderness quality lands, Forest Service Roadless Areas, Greater Canyonlands and a public stakeholder process in the SkiLink proposal).

Matheson said many of the points brought forward by OIA are “already being addressed.”

Groups invited to participate in the process include Utah outdoor industries, members of the hunting and fishing communities, representatives of state agencies in the Department of Natural Resources and the Utah Office of Tourism, state legislators, wildlife-watching groups, off-road vehicle interests and the ski industry.

“Utah can be distinguished from other states in outdoor recreation opportunities in many ways. There are the benefits to the economy, to a quality of life to our heritage and to health benefits,” Matheson said.

“Part of this is helping us all understand why outdoor recreation is valuable and what contributions it brings to the state.”

Utah Explores Private Management of Parks

August 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

The chairman of a Utah board looking at the potential for privatizing state government functions would like to see Utah privatize a handful of state parks to see if they can be run more efficiently than they are now, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The Utah Privatization Policy Board, an advisory panel to the Legislature, has been exploring privatization for several months. But Randy Simmons, chairman of the board, said he would like to see a pilot project to see how private companies can manage six to eight state parks.

The state currently manages 43 parks, reservoirs, museums and golf courses. A handful are profitable, but many, particularly the museums, are not, Mike Styler, director of the Department of Natural Resources, told the panel Wednesday.

Parks receive about $31 million annually in operating funds from the state.

Simmons, former Providence mayor and head of the political science department at Utah State University, suggests putting money-makers and -losers together to find a balance.

The idea of park privatization was raised during this year’s legislative session, but no action was taken.

State Parks Director Mary Tullius said Utah has a bad track record with contracting for management of its parks.

She said about 25 years ago, a private contractor ran a campground at Willard Bay and “they literally ran it into the ground.” The managers built a water slide, but then let both that and the facilities deteriorate to the point that the state had to come in and invest millions of dollars to dismantle the slide and rebuild the campground.

Echo Reservoir is currently run by a private company and, she said, “they don’t even allow people to camp there anymore because it’s so run down.” It is a public safety hazard with little law enforcement.

She said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has asked the state if it would run the park and the state declined unless the bureau would invest the money to fix the site.

“I guess I look at those different than she does,” Simmons said. “To me that looks like a complete failure on the parks side for not monitoring the contract. It’s a serious potential problem if you don’t design the contract right and then if you don’t monitor it.”

Utah County Commissioner Steve White, who is on the board, is generally a fan of privatization.

“I personally tried to get my colleagues to divest three parks” that Utah County owns, White said. “County government doesn’t have any business doing overnight camping sites. The [U.S.] Forest Service does overnight camping and they contract out to private providers.”

Simmons said he would like to hear from contractors and managers from other states that have experience with contracting to run parks.

“So far we’ve been talking about fairyland, and we need to talk seriously with [the experts],” he said. Among the companies Simmons hopes to hear from is Orem-based American Land & Leisure, which runs concessionary facilities on public lands in several states.

Utah May Turn to KOA to Help Run its State Parks

February 9, 2010 by · Comments Off on Utah May Turn to KOA to Help Run its State Parks 

Location of state parks in Utah. Map from the Department of Natural Resources

Location of state parks in Utah. Map from the Department of Natural Resources

Utah lawmakers looking to balance the state parks’ budget heard proposals ranging from a big-game hunt on Antelope Island to letting Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) run some parks, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The park system is already looking at a cut of at least $615,000 from its $31.7 million budget, and more could be coming. The director of the parks system, Mary Tullius, said she worries what additional cuts could mean.

“We have been doing more with less. Now we’re doing less with less,” she said.

To help make ends meet, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, proposed expanding the big-game hunt on Antelope Island. He said that granting two tags for deer and two for bighorn sheep could bring in as much as $500,000 per year from eager hunters.

There is already some bison hunting allowed on the island, according to the division, but the state has not permitted other hunts.

But Noel’s proposal was not nearly as sweeping as the changes pitched by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who recommended contracting with private businesses to run the state parks.

“We got a lot of wonderful parks. We got a lot of parks that lose money, too,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any losers in this.”

Buttars hoped to realize $35 million in savings from the effort, although just $11.6 million of the state parks budget comes directly from taxpayers — the rest comes from fees and a portion of boating and off-highway vehicle registrations.

Tullius said privatizing the state parks may require returning control of some lakes over to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

And 19 parks include property purchased with federal funds, so the state might have to repay the federal government.

Buttars said that explanation strengthened his resolve.

“We’re a slave to the federal government, and I’m sick of it,” Buttars said. “Let’s figure out a way to start getting out from under their thumb. If this state’s ever going to stand up on its own, we need to quit taking federal funds.”

Woodall’s Campground Management contacted KOA officials in Bilings, Mont., regarding such a proposal. KOA responded with the following statement: “The Kampgrounds of America corporate offices in Billings has not been contacted by anyone with state government in Utah regarding such a proposal,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications for KOA Inc.