Southern Utah’s state parks prepare for busy Memorial Day weekend; here’s what you need to know

Crowds at Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, Utah, led to the closure of the park to maintain social distancing guidelines on April 25, 2020. | Photo of courtesy Carl Downing, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With Memorial Day weekend starting Friday, the state parks in Southern Utah are preparing for bigger crowds as people head outside to recreate, and park managers are encouraging visitors to recreate responsibly, practice social distancing and clean up after themselves.

The main road through Snow Canyon State Park of off SR-18, Washington County, Utah, May 18, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Certainly the buzz words are ‘responsible recreation’ and ‘social distancing,'” State Parks Public Information Officer Eugene Swalberg said. “We’ve been dealing with higher than normal visitation at all of our state parks, particularly our Washington County and Southern Utah parks. They have hit their stride, they’ve been doing this for a number of weekends now, and I’m hoping the public feels that it is going well.”

Swalberg also stressed that while recreating responsibly, people should enjoy themselves. He also said there has been a rise in vandalism and trash being left at state parks. He said there have been instances of it in local parks, but most visitors have been following the rules.

“If we take an overall whole, visitors to state parks have been doing good practicing social distancing, cleaning up after themselves, and protecting the resources and the facilities,” Swalberg said.

Sand Hollow State Park has seen an increase in visitors and has been closing its gates once the park hits capacity with parking and boat parking.

Gunlock State Park waterfalls, Gunlock, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

“We are expecting a big Memorial weekend crowd, and it is historically our biggest weekend of the year,” Sand Hollow Park Manager Jonathan Hunt said. “However, with us closing down and hitting capacity the last several weeks, we’re expecting people to maybe not show up because they realize we have been hitting capacity. We hope people are not driving from five or six hours away in hopes of visiting the park because we will be turning a lot of folks away this weekend.”

Hunt expects it to be better in terms of capacity than it was at the end of April when there was a flood of people into the park. He also said visitors should aim to leave the park better then they found it. The people that clean up their own trash and that from other visitors are the kind of park-goers that Hunt wants at Sand Hollow.

Sand Hollow will have dumpsters spread across the park and will have enough staff to handle the operations needed, but they want visitors to be respectful and fulfill their side of things.

As they have over the last couple of weeks, Sand Hollow State Park will be closing the gates once the park hits its capacity, which includes 130 boat parking spots. Once the closure is started, it may last five or six hours before the park reopens. Hunt said they have seen closures start as early as 9 a.m., but on Friday, he said they do not plan on closing at all.

Hunt also said there is only one legal entrance into Sand Hollow, but they have seen people park in neighborhoods nearby and jump the fence into the park.

“Sand Hollow does only have one legal entrance to the lake, so if we turn you away, don’t plan on parking in neighborhoods and hopping fences. When we close down that is the only access to the lake,” he said.

Gunlock State Park also expects to see increased visitation, Park Manager Jon Allred said.

A storm over Sand Hollow that caused several boats and swimmers to be stranded, Sand Hollow State Park, Utah, July 13, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Brodie Rose, St. George News

“We want people to clean up after themselves. And whatever they bring to the park we suggest they haul it back home,” Allred said. “Even garbage; it helps out when people will take their garbage bags with them. We do have trash bins here, but it helps a lot when people take trash with them, especially bigger items.”

Allred also said Gunlock will be closing when it hits capacity as they have over the last month or so. He also said they want people to recreate responsibly and keep social distancing while in the park.

The park’s social media pages can be a good resource for those who plan to visit as they will post closure notices for people to check on during the weekend.

“I would suggest that people look for a lot of alternatives from what they might normally have done,” Allred said. “Look for different areas where they can recreate outside and spend the weekend outside. We want people to recreate outside and enjoy themselves, but we want people to be safe.”

Gunlock is pushing safety in the park this weekend, which includes helmets and life jackets.

Other parks like Quail Creek State Park have also closed their gates once they reach capacity. Snow Canyon State Park is also expecting to see increased visitation this weekend.

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

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