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People visit the Antelope Island State Park Visitor Center Friday, April 8, 2022. Utah’s State Parks Division announced Friday that the center will be renovated and expanded to accommodate the growth of the park, which welcomed more than a million visitors last year. .
Leah Hogsten, The Salt Lake Tribune
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Great Salt Lake Collaboration
Editor’s note: This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.
After state officials and lawmakers secured $13 million in funding, Antelope Island State Park is ready to complete the second phase of its visitor center construction project. And that only lasted about a quarter of a century.
The Utah Division of State Parks and Friends of Antelope Island held a kick-off event on Friday formally announcing the development plans to stakeholders and media, who were seated just yards from where the new building is supposed to be built.
The park’s current visitor center was built in 1996 and represented the first phase of the project. In the decades that followed, however, the planned second phase never materialized due to a lack of funding.
The need for expansion has become more urgent as the island has been inundated, not by water but by increasing numbers of visitors in recent years. So much that the current center could not keep pace with demand. The state park welcomed more than one million visitors in 2021, said park superintendent Jeremy Shaw, making it the third most visited state park in Utah.
He doesn’t expect visits to drop anytime soon.
“With the development in Syracuse, the West Davis Corridor is going to have an off-ramp to Antelope Drive,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune, “and so by the time that’s done, I’d say our visit might push up for 2 million.”
The growing capacity problem, as well as a exceptionally large sum of money that the state had to appropriate this year encouraged the Legislative Assembly to allocate $1 million to the project in 2021 and an additional $12 million this year.
“Fortunately for us, we have Senate Speaker from Layton and House Speaker from Kaysville,” Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, who led the fundraising effort in the Legislative Assembly, told the Tribune. “They know the island. They knew it had to be done, and it was just a matter of timing to access the available funding.
The money is enough to completely redesign the existing visitor center, which will serve as an “education center” in the future, and the addition of a new building that will add thousands of square feet to the center.
The addition will include an amphitheater where visiting students can congregate, a new drop-off area and an entry plaza, according to a press release.
Perhaps most importantly, the money will allow the center to incorporate permanent research workspaces where scientists and students can gather to study the Great Salt Lake. Shaw said the park already has agreements with most colleges in the state to conduct research at the facility.
“What better place to educate these people on the importance of this lake than here, where they can stand and learn about it and look at it at the same time?” said Shaw.
Trying to save the demise Great Salt Lake was a legislative focal point during the 2022 General Session. A group of legislators, including Handy, took a tour of the lake as the crow flies in February, making it clear that the lake may not always exist.
At the time, Senate Speaker Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said, “The last trip I took to Antelope Island, looking back…it didn’t look much like an island anymore,” he said. he told reporters. “And I think that’s a real concern.”
This way, the Legislature gets double bang for its buck with its $13 million appropriation: helping one of its most popular state parks with its tourist overflow while bringing more attention to the landmark. endangered that surrounds it.
Shaw told those present at the press conference that it took park staff 19 days to identify vehicles with license plates from each state that visited the park. But support, he said, had to come from more than the United States.
“We are going to get global support through this effort,” he remarked.
Design work for the project has already begun and the necessary funding to start construction is expected to be available on July 1. Shaw said if all goes according to plan, he could see the new center ready by mid-summer 2023.
The redesign of the visitor center is just one of the changes the state park has undergone recently. A new campground – featuring amenities such as paved parking and RV hookups, flush toilets, showers, barbecues and shelters – was also added to Bridger Bay in the year last.