The agency is facing serious budget cuts, which have already meant fewer staff members, and could even lead to shorter hours open to the public or reduction in programs.
Davis County residents always think of Antelope Island when they think of a local state park. It is the largest park in the state’s system, and among its most popular.
But there is another state park-administered facility, much smaller, called Jordan River OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) Park. Ninety percent of it lies in Davis County, the remainder in Salt Lake City.
It was used by former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. a few times as a place to ride his dirt bikes.
The park has four separate tracks, and is open from April through November, four days a week for day visits, and costs $10 a rider to use.
About 50 percent of the cost to operate the park is covered by visitor fees, estimates State Parks Northern Region Manager Jeff Rasmussen.
This past legislative session included a request for state parks officials to look at a plan to bring more efficiencies, possibly including seeing if local entities might be able to assume some responsibility for maintaining a number of parks.
Local entities could include cities and counties, such as Davis, Rasmussen told The Clipper.
In the case of the Jordan River OHV Park, it’s far too early to know if the county would take administration and operation on, or more – such as take it over outright.
That’s what happened some years ago when Fort Buenaventura was transferred from the state to Weber County control.
“Maybe we can at least explore this,” County Commission Chair Louenda Downs told The Clipper, carefully choosing her words. That’s because the discussion is so preliminary.
It comes back to my opening statement about many of us needing to tighten our belts.
State Parks has already seen a budget cut of $6 million and has the potential to lose nearly half again as much.
“If that happens, we will have no choice but to close some of the parks,” Rasmussen said.
“We’re down to bare-bone operations as it is, and have really no other direction to go,” he added.
Of course, that could all change if the economy turns around and the Legislature finds there is more money in the state coffers.
Davis County already has a strong partnership with Antelope Island, including through such groups as the Friends of Antelope Island, Davis Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Davis Chamber of Commerce, and more.
Just Tuesday, the nonprofit group that now runs the Antelope Island Balloon & Kite Stampede announced increased activities, bands, and more for that event. It estimates half the attendees last year came from Salt Lake County, and a partnership with a Salt Lake radio station could bring in even more out-of-county visitors for that event.
It’s the kind of revenue generator, to put it in cold budgetary terms, that State Parks is looking for.
“We don’t want to take on anything that would mean more cost to the county,” Downs said.
But the county is willing to continue discussions, see what could work.
It’s too bad our state parks are put in such a dilemma. But then, the same can be said for our national parks.
Having recently visited Glacier National Park in Montana, I was personally reminded of what a gem such places are.
But in these tough economic times, the value, upkeep of parks must be weighed against the many other needs people are facing, from access to adequate medical care to enough food to good schools and teachers for our kids.