Growth in the Off Highway Vehicle and Snowmobiling Programs
During the Leavitt/Walker Administration there was a major growth in the popularity of Off Highway Vehicle use in Utah with the numbers growing from 77,509 registered vehicles in 1998 to 150,781 by 2003. With this growth came the challenge of management, education, needed facilities, and resource impacts. This was and continues to be a concern, which has required a partnership and coordinated effort from land managing agencies, communities and the industry.
One example of the challenge being met was the establishment of the Piute ATV Trail in central Utah. This required a partnership with State Parks, US Forest Service, BLM, 4 counties (Sevier, Piute, Millard, & Beaver), several communities and ATV users groups. This effort resulted in a 200+ mile loop trail with over 1000 miles of side trips and access to community services (fuel, food and lodging). Although this recreational trail was a great economic benefit to the communities, its popularity has created a large impact on the public lands and the agencies managing those lands.
Although not to the level of the wheeled OHV growth, there was also an increase in the popularity and use of use of snowmobiles during this same period of time. This required partnerships with the US Forest Service, some winter resorts, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Parks to meet the needs of winter parking and trail grooming to provide access to play area. During this period of time the 6-snowmobile trail-grooming programs increased to 11 programs with additional thousands of miles of trail being groomed.
Throughout this period of time there were many efforts to find additional funds to support these programs. There was a need for training of users especially the young users. Additional funding was also needed to match funds with Federal and state agencies in an effort to provide facilities and service for the increasing number of users. Funds came from increases registration fees, education fees, and fuel tax.
Professionalization & Resource Management
The State Park System was officially created in 1957 with little or no funding for the operation of the park areas assigned to this new agency. Over the years as the agency grew the main focus was on keeping the limited facilities open and reasonably maintained. This continued to be the focus through the years. The need to manage the natural, recreational and cultural resources was not a priority and little effort was made to move away from the generalist Ranger who was more of a custodian of facilities than resources. Rangers primarily worked to provide only for the visitors, sometimes at the expense of the unique resource, which made the park special.
During the Leavitt/Walker administration some major strides were made to better manage the resources. This requires some specialization of responsibilities and moving away from the Generalist employee to better-trained specialist.
Historians, Curators and Archeologists were hired to fill positions in the heritage parks, focusing on care for the wonderful natural, paleontological, cultural resource as well as the historical structures entrusted to the divisions care. To lead this transition, a division wide level heritage coordinator was hired.
In the natural or scenic parks, Park Naturists were hired to not only guide the management of the natural resources in the parks, but to also educate the visitor about how to appreciate and protect these unique and special resources.
In order to make these specialized positions available without increasing the number of personnel and to meet the increased needs of training and specialization of the Law Enforcement Rangers, the number of Law Enforcement officer in the divisions was reduced by 33. Those Rangers remaining specialized in resource and visitor protection. The custodial responsibilities went to others who specialized in those responsibilities.
New Resource Management Plans (RMP) were written with greater emphasis on resource protection and management, including managing special species with in the park. One benefit of active management of some special species was it lessened the possibility of a species within the parks being listed as endangered or threatened.
Although we have already mentioned several areas where partnerships were formed to solve special needs, the Leavitt Walker Administration was a time of forming many successful partnerships.
The Division of Parks and Recreation, as well as other Natural Resources agencies, have a close relationship with federal land management partners, i.e., National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. These agencies, along with the Division of Parks and Recreation, came together to form a Public Lands consortium and worked together to resolve issues of concern among the members. A good example of the teamwork was the booth shared by the partners at the State Fair and shared staffing of the public lands information center during the Winter Olympic Games.
An example of the close cooperation between the Division and public land partners happened in 1994 when the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) agreed to match a $1 million annual appropriation with state money to renovate old and dilapidated facilities at three state parks located on BOR land. The first to receive assistance was Rockport State Park, followed by Deer Creek, Willard Bay and East Canyon State Parks. Anywhere from $3 million to $6 million were spent over several years at each of these parks. The program has been so successful that additional BOR parks (there are eight BOR facilities in the state park system) are being considered today for future renovation.
Another great example of partnerships established during the Leavitt and Walker administrations is the development of the Paiute Trail system for off-highway vehicles. This began with a group of public officials from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, local counties, and the park managers from Otter Creek State Park and Fremont Indian State Park who all sat down and discussed the possibility and feasibility of a major motorized trail system in the area of Sevier, Paiute, Beaver, and Millard Counties. The result of this casual planning session can be seen today with hundreds of miles of trails throughout Utah with state, federal, and local governments taking an active part in development, administration, maintenance, and law enforcement. Now, along with the Paiute Trail system, Utah has the Shoshone, Outlaw, Arapeen, and other trail systems that link the State. Under the guidance of these resource specilists, interpretive efforts have been added in every park in the system. Thus effort may be one of the most successful and lasting accomplishments in parks during the Leavitt/Walker years.