Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Issues Challenging Parks during the Leavitt/Walker Years

Trophy Deer Hunting on Antelope Island

The Resource Management Plan, policy and practice of the park was to manage the park as an animal viewing area and reserve (outdoor wildlife museum).  There was a move to open the island to trophy hunting of the deer, with permits selling for large amounts of money.

Although the practice of allowing a few guided hunting opportunities to help manage the Bison herd had been taking place for several years, the expanded hunting idea did not fit with the RMP or the existing wildlife viewing activity, which was taking place on the island.

A lengthy process of public involvement and input including lobbying of the legislature, from support group (Friends of Antelope Island) took place.  This group was opposed to allow hunting on the island. There was also pressure from the Governor’s office and some legislators to open the island to trophy hunting yet the majority of public opinion was opposed to such a program.  The decision ended up in the hands of the Utah Board of Parks and Recreation who voted not to allow any expanded hunting program to take place on the island.

Closing State Parks

As operation and maintenance dollars were getting harder to find and the legislature and governor’s office were looking at ways to cut the costs of state government the idea of closing some of the less used state parks became a mandate to parks from both the Governor’s office and the Legislature.  This did not seem to make good sense to the Board of Parks and Recreation as our society was becoming more affluent with more leisure time the use of our recreation facilities was reaching capacity, the board felt we should be looking at additional opportunities and recreation areas not reducing those opportunities and facilities.  This requirement began a very difficult and heart wrenching process.

The division had created a program, which, allow them to evaluate proposals for new park (MAUT—Multi-Attribute Utility Technology explained later in this paper).  This process allowed new proposals to be evaluated based on a comparison with existing park areas.  It was decided to use this process to rank the parks and possibly close those that had the lower scores.

Public meetings were held in the communities near the parks being considered for closure. Through these public meetings it became evident every park had their supporters.  These supporters were those who had a great appreciation and interest a specific park area. The Otter Creek State Park and Piute State Park, both located in Piute County were on the list for possible closure.  A public meeting held in Piute County was attended by over 80% of the adult population of that county, as well as other supporters from outside the county. These people came to plead with the Board not to close “THEIR” parks.

After this public meeting process it was decided to look for parks that would not be closed, but turned over to someone else to manage thus keeping the recreational opportunity available to the public.  Although this seemed to be a win/win solution it was not well accepted by Governor Leavitt.

The parks that were transferred were; Minersville State Park transferred to Beaver County, most of Jordon River State Park to Salt Lake City and Fort Bonaventura State Park to Ogden City.

Another lesson learned was that when federal Land and Water Conservation Funds are used and/or Land is acquired through to Recreation and Public Purposes Act, it becomes almost impossible to walk away from the park and facilities.  This is due to the agreement made in the process of acquiring the development funds or recreational lands.

Minersville State Park for example literally required federal legislation championed by Congressman Chris Cannon to transfer the lands and facilities from the state to the county.

Efforts to Privatize

There was a strong push to privatize government services and Utah’s State Parks were looked at closely.

The wonderful golf courses managed by Parks have always been something desired by private enterprise, however they are one of the few service that help pay for the lower revenue generating parks such as museums.  It was discovered that without these revenue positive operations the division would need a much larger general fund appropriation to operate the other revenue negative facilities.

The Rails to Trails State Park in Summit County was turned over to a private foundation to operate.

The operation and management of This is the Place State Park was taken over by a private foundation which in 2008, still struggles to survive, even with the division financially contributing a yearly sum which is in excess of amount needed for operation when the facilities were operated by Parks.

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Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service