Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue


Introduction There has been a long history of collaboration on research projects between the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation (Utah State Parks) and Utah State University’s Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism (IORT) that began in the late 1970s when IORT was founded and continues to this day. This was especially true during the time of the administrations of Governor Leavitt (1992-2002) and Governor Walker (2002-2004) in Utah when Courtland Nelson served as Director of Utah State Parks. IORT and Utah State Parks have mutual interests based on the mission statements of each, with a common goal of enhancing the quality of life of Utah residents and visitors to the state through the provision of quality outdoor recreation opportunities and experiences. With respect to IORT, in 1998, the Utah State Legislature approved Senate Bill 35 to provide continuing funding to Utah State University to establish and support an interdisciplinary program of research, extension, and teaching to provide a better understanding of the relationships between outdoor recreation and tourism, natural resources management, community economic vitality, and quality of life issues for the citizens of Utah.  Then Utah State Parks Director Courtland Nelson was very supportive of (more…)


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 (more…)



Comprehensive Planning to Meet Future Development Needs One of the key management decisions made by both Division Directors Courtland Nelson and Mary Tullius was to initiate the development of comprehensive resource management planning (RMP) efforts for each state park. The Division’s RMP process rapidly expanded during the Leavitt/Walker years. Each RMP was stakeholder driven, and incorporated the expertise and recommendations of park users, local business leaders, local governments, natural and cultural resource experts, and Division staff. In addition, through public meetings and through extensive visitor survey methods, these planning efforts incorporated the public’s input and recommendation.  This provided the Division with a more representative picture of true visitor needs. These efforts led to more efficient planning and programming for future capital facilities. Through the stakeholder-based planning teams and through the public outreach efforts which were integral to each planning process, the Division was able to better capture the needs of park visitors, and translate these needs into facilities that provided the public with a safer and more satisfying visitor experience. Resource Management Plan (RMP) Process Developed and Utilized in Utah State Park System The Division RMP process evolved over several years, beginning in the early 1990s. It was an effort to (more…)


Frontiers 2000: A System Plan to Guide Utah State Parks and Recreation into the 21st Century

This was a very broad-based participative process that helped refine the RMP process subsequently for individual state park comprehensive plans. It provided a background and history of the system from 1957, statutory justification, a mission and vision statement, a conceptual framework for the discussion and proposed specific actions to accomplish goals and objectives. Members of the Park Board, park users, park staff, DNR, federal land managers, BYU graduate school scholars and others participated in the project: over 200 persons were involved. The plan was used to formulate and justify state park budgets and proposed legislation and represented a State Park System Plan. The plan outlined 15 major issues and 124 important recommendations. Of the 15 major issues, “funding” (a reliable source of funding to implement the planning process) was deemed the highest priority issue. Important partnerships were formed with Utah Parks and Recreation Association, the Nature Conservancy, Utah Open Lands, Utah Recreational Trails Advisory Council, Marine Dealers Association, the Trust for Public Lands, Governors Office of Planning and Budget, Utah Travel Council and other State Park users. Foundational values for State Parks included: Customer service and satisfaction, Protect and sustain park resources, Assure quality of life through programs and facilities, Work (more…)


Growth and Maturing

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 (more…)


New Facilities

Although operation and maintenance funds were very tight during the Leavitt/Walker years there was a significant growth in Utah’s recreation estate through the addition of several new state parks and/or facilities. Soldier Hollow A little used section of Wasatch Mountain State Park called Soldier Hollow was chosen as the venue for the Biathlon and Cross Country Skiing events for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. After the conclusion games, the Utah State Park System was left with a Day Lodge, a Competition Building, biathlon and cross country skiing facilities and all the infrastructures needed for recreation development in this once remote section of the Park. The Division of Parks and Recreation used this opportunity to provide additional recreational facilities to the Park. The decision was made to keep the winter competition facilities available for training, competition, and exposure to the activities that took place at this venue during the Olympics. Snow tubing was added as an additional winter activity under a concession agreement with a private company. The Legislature and Governor allowed State Parks to take advantage of this opportunity to develop a beautiful and unique golfing experience by bonding to build a 36-hole golf course, which never would have been feasible (more…)


New Initiatives

Winter Olympic Games For decades the Division of Parks and Recreation desired to develop the extreme southern part of Wasatch Mountain State Park, commonly known as Soldier Hollow. This area had, since the beginning of the state park system, been used primarily for agriculture because the Division had neither the funding nor the political backing to develop the area for public outdoor recreation. This site was frequently looked upon as a desirable location for a future golf course and, in fact, was the focus of several attempts by private investors for development. The most serious of these attempts was the Deer Run planned development in the early 1990’s. It was proposed by the developers that the Division deed to the project 4,000 acres of prime land in return for an 18-hole public golf course to be developed by Deer Run and deeded to the Division. The developer would then build another private 18-hole course, hotels and condominiums on what was state park property. The Board of State Parks and Recreation held public meetings to receive comments and the people in the neighboring communities were greatly opposed. The proposal was denied in a unanimous vote of the Board. The difficulty for (more…)



Development and Maintenance Backlog Under the Leavitt/Walker administrations, the Division adopted two forward looking strategic planning efforts, Frontiers 2000 initiated in 1996, and more recently, Vision 2010, initiated in early 2004. Both these documents identified the need for the Division to step up previously identified issues regarding deferred maintenance and capital development. With the advent of the 1990s, approximately thirty years after an initial investment in facilities and infrastructure, the Division found itself attempting to meet the needs of an expanding visitor base with an inventory of facilities rapidly reaching the end of their useful life. In the late 1990s, Division leadership, working in partnership with the Division of Facilities, Construction, and Management (DFCM) undertook a comprehensive, system-wide survey of the Division’s facilities maintenance needs. Their efforts revealed that there was a $70 million backlog of maintenance and development needs. At the same time, annual funding for maintenance averaged about $2 to $3 million from various sources. Maintenance and improvements issues ranged from ensuring day-to-day visitor health and safety to addressing the evolving recreation needs of an increasing visitor base. As the demand for maintenance funding greatly exceeded available funding, Division maintenance efforts were analogous to medical “triage” whereby facilities (more…)


Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service