Utah to see 2 new state parks; statewide campground expansion to include Sand Hollow, Gunlock

The entrance to Sand Hollow State Park seen in the summer of 2018. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —With a 33% increase in state park visitation compared to the  previous year – that’s over 2.66 million – the 2020 recreation season was truly one for the record books.  

In this file photo, crowds gather at Gunlock State Park en masse following Utah easing COVID-19 related visitation restrictions on its state parks, Washington County, Utah, May 2, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

With no signs of slowing down, Utah is making an unprecedented investment into its state park system. According to a press release issued by Utah State Parks, expanding facilities and amenities is one way they are highlighting their commitment to quality outdoor recreation areas. 

In the 2021 Legislative Session, Utah State Parks was appropriated nearly $120 million to go toward facilities and infrastructure. This money will directly fund the creation of two brand new state parks, along with multiple improvements and expansions on existing state parks spreading across Utah. Of that money, $36.5 million is set aside for the creation of the two new state parks; with the remaining $83 million going toward state park improvement and expansion projects. 

“This money is going directly to work,” Utah State Parks Director Jeff Rasmussen said in the news release. “The creation of these two new state parks, along with our expansion and improvement  projects, directly benefit communities and economies across Utah. We greatly appreciate the Utah legislature and Governor Cox for their trust and support in investing  this money wisely in our State Parks. This money will benefit all Utahns and our state  park visitors.” 

What visitors to the new parks can expect 

What makes the creation of these two parks possible? In the 2021 Legislative Session, a bill – sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason and floor sponsored by Sen. David  P. Hinkins – was signed to create two new state parks: Utahraptor State Park and Lost  Creek State Park. 

The Legislature appropriated $36.5 million to go directly toward the creation of these parks, as an effort to ensure these areas receive the attention they need to become true jewels in the Utah State Parks system. Gov. Spencer Cox later signed the bill, solidifying the creation and development of these two new parks. Engineering and  design plans for Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park will begin immediately, with construction work beginning in 2022, the news release states.

Utahraptor State Park

The first jaw bone of a Utahraptor found on the site, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of James Kirkland, St. George News

As previously reported on by St. George News, Utahraptor State Park will be located roughly 15 miles northwest of Moab in the Dalton Wells and Willow Springs area of Grand County — where Utah’s most famous dinosaur was discovered. While it is still in the planning  stages, visitors can look forward to two modern campgrounds, restrooms and trailheads for access to the nearby OHV and mountain bike trail systems. As such, this park will cater to a wide variety of outdoor enthusiasts. 

While boundaries are still being drawn up, the expected park size is between 7,000 and 8,000 acres. Construction is expected to begin in 2022. Along with coordination and planning with partner agencies, Utah State Parks says they are confident this designation will better preserve and protect the paleontological, cultural and recreational resources found in this popular area. 

Eager adventurers are asked to be patient as the area is currently underdeveloped and only primitive camping is available. The park is expected to open officially in 2022. 

Lost Creek State Park

Lost Creek State Park is located just outside the town of Croydon in Morgan County. This area, much like Utahraptor State Park, is already a very popular place to visit, especially for those who enjoy paddlecraft and fishing. While designs for Lost Creek State Park are still in the works, future visitors can expect amenities to be very similar to state parks like Jordanelle State Park, Rockport State Park, Willard Bay State Park and East Canyon State Park. 

Officials remind the public that both of these new state parks are still in development, so it’s probably best to wait until they are officially open before you load the gear in the truck for a weekend adventure as they will remain in their primitive condition until they are officially open. 

State parks are getting improvements and expansions 

New state parks aren’t the only thing coming to the state parks system. Several state parks are also in the process of being expanded and improved upon. With the large increase in the demand for recreation, the choice to expand upon existing facilities, infrastructure and amenities in these Utah jewels is something park visitors will benefit from, the release states. 

Sand Hollow Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, March 29, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

The $83 million appropriated to state parks for these improvements includes $67 million  of General Fund money, as well as an additional $16 million coming from the Utah State Parks restricted account, which is money gathered directly from visitor fees. This means that a good portion of these improvements continues to be funded directly by park visitors. 

These improvements also help to energize the local economies. Visitors to state parks often stay at local hotels, eat at restaurants and frequent stores and gas stations. The improvement and expansion of park amenities also create jobs for contractors, park staff, private concessionaires and more. 

“It’s not just one park getting these benefits, or even two or three,” Rasmussen said in the release.  “We are going to be spreading the projects out across Utah so that multiple parks, communities, and economies can see the benefits.” 

Some of the upcoming expansions and improvements at state parks in Washington County include new campgrounds at Sand Hollow and Gunlock state parks. Click here for the full listing.

These statewide projects are expected to bring an estimated 1,000 new parking spots and 500 new campsites to state parks. It is important to acknowledge that these parking spots allow a dramatic increase in visitation to parks, because one parking stall can be used  multiple times a day by different visitors, and each vehicle in those spots can carry multiple people into the park.

State park officials say they hope these additions help alleviate pressure from many of the parks and other surrounding recreation areas.  

Visit the Utah State Park website for more information.

Visit this link for a video statement from Rasmussen

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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