Sand Hollow, Quail Creek join Gunlock in closing after flood of crowds

Gunlock Reservoir, Washington County, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Before noon Sunday, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks had reached capacity and closed to new boaters and beach crowds. The parks will continue to monitor capacity throughout the day in order to assess whether or not they can allow in new customers.

The parks joined Gunlock State Park, which announced earlier it was going to remain closed Sunday after large crowds and an injury to a woman at Gunlock Falls Saturday.

Swimmers stranded on a rock after a storm in Sand Hollow State Park, Utah, July 13, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Johnathan Hunt, St. George News

Sand Hollow State Park manager Jonathan Hunt told St. George News that they were posting signs of closure at around 11 a.m. Sunday morning.

“Our beach crowd has really started to show up this morning. It’s almost eleven o’ clock exactly. And everyone’s wanting to park on the same beach. If we could get the crowd to spread out a little bit, we have room. But everyone wants to park … on the more popular beaches.”

Around 4 p.m. Sunday, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek were once again allowing new visitors into the park.

He said they would be turning people away in the next 15 minutes, which would have been at 11:15 a.m. They were also still allowing about 10 more boats in at that time, as they still had some boat parking open. The closure will likely remain for the day, but is weather dependent, he said.

“On a nice sunny day, people tend to stay for most of the day, which means the room for new customers is not created, so I expect, kind of like yesterday, until about 4 or 5 o’ clock, we will limit the access to the park.”

Hunt said Sunday was fantastic and a significant difference from the previous weekend, when they were still allowing primitive camping and more people to enter. This week, by limiting to the parking spaces they have available and not allowing people to double-park, those inside the park have had a much better experience.

“We turned away hundreds of cars that wanted to enter, but due to our capacity, we’re not able to,” Hunt said. “Clearly, we have upset folks who were planning to come visit the park, but those who entered said it was a much better experience for them.”

Compared to last year around this time, Hunt said every day seems to be busy now because more people are out of work or working from home and kids are out of school.

“So even on a Monday through Thursday, the park is very busy.”

Along the shoreline at Quail Creek State Park, Utah, May 1, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Even so, he said they didn’t have to close the park until Friday and that he’s hoping — as long as people continue to maintain their social distancing — that they can stay open the full day Monday through Thursday.

Quail Creek State Park manager Candace Smith said they had closed to boats at 11 a.m., and were going to check back in regards to the availability and parking stalls in about a half hour. They will continue to monitor capacity throughout the day.

“If we have a space we’ll open it back up,” she said.

As a smaller park with less stalls, she said they have enough people to reevaluate.

Gunlock State Park manager John Allred told St. George News that they reached capacity at about 9:30 a.m.

Even with an electric sign on the road and a police presence, he said people were still coming in hopes of recreating. The majority of visitors have been from out of state, he said. Gunlock Falls are closed throughout the day and will be reassessed Monday for reopening.

“We tried to close them yesterday, and they’re closed today,” he said. “We’re doing this to try to keep people away from the area, which has been very difficult to do because there are so many different access points.”

He said he doubts that the park will go below capacity for the remainder of the day, and the closure will extend into Monday if they reach capacity then, he said.

While Gunlock was busy throughout the week, he said they never reached capacity and encouraged people to use the park during the week if possible. He said they are talking to everyone they can about social distancing and recommending that they stay in small groups when possible.

Crowds gather at Gunlock State Park en masse following Utah easing visitation restrictions on its state parks due to the coronavirus, Washington County, Utah, May 2, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

“It’s hard to stay in a small group when there’s as many people that have chosen to recreate right now, but we are talking to everybody about social distancing and responsible recreation,” Allred said.

Utah State Parks spokesperson Eugene Swalberg said the managers of the park are seeking to have parking restricted along Gunlock Drive by Washington County.

“Our recommendation to the county is to institute an ordinance that limits parking along the roadway,” Swalberg said. “Park management is in the process of working with local officials to address parking concerns outside of the park.”

Overall, in the park itself, people have been able to social distance because they have closed down when they reach parking capacity.

“We’re trying to keep an eye on the park and see when people lose the ability to social distance, and that’s when we’ve been closing down.”

He said they have been trying to encourage people to recreate responsibly and a bit part of that is to recreate locally.

“We’re hoping that a lot more things will start to open up — in Nevada and other surrounding areas — that will give people recreation opportunities elsewhere.

Allred also reminded people to be cognizant of heat stroke. As the temperatures continue to rise, people should stay hydrated and protect themselves from too much sun exposure.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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