Utah's natural wonders — State parks are truly treasures

Published: Thursday, April 12 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Goblin Valley State Park in Hanksville: Camping, day-use, hiking.

Lynn Arave, Deseret Morning News

Utah's entry into the state-parks program was slow. In fact, Utah is said to be the last state to have recreational land falling under state control.

During the first three decades of the 20th century, Utah's natural wonders became recognized on a national level as parks or monuments. Zion became a national park in 1916, then Rainbow Bridge in 1910; Dinosaur in 1915; Hovenweep and Timpanogos Cave in 1923; Bryce Canyon in 1928; Arches in 1929; Cedar Breaks in 1933; and Capitol Reef in 1937.

There were other sites, equally as spectacular, that had not yet been preserved.

The decision was made to develop state parks in the 1950s, and in 1957 the Utah State Parks and Recreation Commission was established and immediately took under its control three sites — Wasatch Mountain, the Territorial Statehouse and This Is the Place Monument.

Two years later, park officials presented to the Utah Legislature 118 potential park sites.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Utah's park system. And, thus far, between those identified earlier and new ones recommended, Utah has 42 state parks. Recreational opportunities at those parks range from golf to water sports to simply pitching a tent and camping.

Comforts cover everything from hot and cold running water to electrical and sewer hookups to shaded picnic tables. Some parks even offer history lessons, in some cases going back more than 4 billion years.

For the cost of a daily entry fee — more for overnight stays, golf and hookups — people can enjoy whatever the park has to offer.

A few years back, Mary Tullius, director of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, submitted a "vision" projecting out to 2010.

"Every organization needs a road map to follow," she explained. "In this case, every staff member is involved in making the plan come alive and meeting assigned objectives."

Those main objectives being, of course, places people can go and relax and enjoy themselves. And, at the same time, enjoy a few of the comforts and recreational opportunities the parks offer.

And what the parks have to offer is, of course, all those things a visitor would expect in a state park, like parking places, picnic tables, restrooms and a comfortable setting. All 118 potential sites listed had comfortable settings, but not all came with that extra little kick that gains them entry into the park system.

A lot of the original focus was on Wasatch because it was in a beautiful alpine setting, and people love mountain settings, and it was close to populated cities, thus easy to reach. It also offered a full range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, horseback riding, hunting and eventually golf. Wasatch Mountain State Park is, today, recognized as one of the most popular courses in Utah.

Looking down the list of parks, it should be noted that each has its own distinct personality or special feature.

As examples, Antelope Island has its buffalo, Coral Pink Sand Dunes has acres of soft sand, Goblin Valley has hundreds of odd formations, Dead Horse Point has one of the most beautiful views anywhere, This Is the Place has its history and Deer Creek, Rockport, East Canyon, Scofield and Piute, to name a few, have reservoirs.

On the list of America's "Top 100 Family Campgrounds," six of 3,000 reviewed were Utah parks — Antelope Island, Bear Lake, Dead Horse Point, Red Fleet, Wasatch Mountain and Willard Bay.

The list was compiled from information gathered from park rangers, regional park managers and campers who took the time to write in testimonials and ratings.

Selection was based on "family-friendly criteria" ranging from educational programs, visitor centers, camping amenities and overall beauty and scenery.