PROVO — Cris Schulz hears it all the time.
People in their 40s, 50s and 60s walk into the marina store he manages here at Utah Lake State Park and ask, “Is it safe?” “Can we go in the water?”
Of course you can go in the water, he tells them, and what’s more, he’ll be right behind them.
This isn’t your father’s Utah Lake.
The only thing dirty about it is its old reputation.
There was a time when what they were saying about Utah Lake was true. Back when “Ski the Scum” T-shirts were all the rage. When there were so many carp the other fish didn’t stand a chance. When algae-producing sewage made its way into the water from sewage treatment plants.
But those days, according to Schulz, are going, going, just about gone.
Thanks to the Utah Lake Commission and other friends and supporters of the lake, adjoining towns have greatly improved their water reclamation facilities, curtailing the release of algae-producing phosphates and the algae blooms they used to produce.
As for the carp, they have no friends. A private company harvests anywhere from 10 to 24 tons of the trash fish per day, slowly but surely ridding the lake of what Schulz calls “the feral pigs of the aquatic world.”
What’s left are “millions and millions” of catchable fish, including walleye, yellow perch, catfish and various types of bass. There are so many white bass in the lake there is no limit. “You’ll catch ’em till your arms hurt,” says Schulz.
If Schulz sounds like a one-man Utah Lake Chamber of Commerce, there’s good reason. Three summers ago, he liked what he saw going on at the lake so much that he approached the state about the possibility of putting in a commercial marina at the long-standing Utah Lake State Park located west of Provo (to get there, go west on Center Street until you look down and your ankles are wet).
They pointed him toward a swamp next to the marina and told him to have at it.
He brought in landfill, built a store, a shed to store rental gear for fishing and water activities, recruited his family to help him run the place, and installed gas pumps — the first fuel service available on the lake.
Ever since, he’s been beating the drums about the new and improved Utah Lake.
He proudly proclaims everything that’s right about it, starting with its size.
It is a verifiable fact, he’ll tell you, that outside of the Great Lakes, which deserve their own category, Utah Lake is the 18th largest natural fresh-water lake in America. That’s in surface area. Many lakes are deeper than Utah Lake, which has an average depth of just 9 feet, but few come close to its 151 square miles of surface. It measures 24 miles long and 13 miles wide. It’s more than twice as big as Flaming Gorge, a third again larger than Bear Lake. You could fit 33 Jordanelle reservoirs in there.
To navigate around the entire thing in a jet ski requires two and a half tanks of gas.
“You might as well be a Pony Express rider, it’s so native and wild out there,” says Schulz. “And you should see the view from the west side. It’s sensational. But don’t run out of gas.”
It all translates to a huge playground for water skiers, wakeboarders, boaters, jet skiers, fishermen, duck hunters, stand up paddleboarders — you name it. Everyone can carve out their own private lake.
What’s more, shallow water at a relatively low elevation means warmer water — in the summertime the water temperature is typically 80 degrees or higher — and a longer season by at least a month and a half than mountain reservoirs such as Deer Creek and Jordanelle.
Add in easy fall-out-your-door accessibility to the Wasatch Front, and Schulz rests his case.
The word is gradually spreading, he reports. Gross sales at his marina store have doubled every summer since he’s been there.
Among his converts are those people over 40 who remember Utah Lake before it entered rehab.
“They check it out and they can’t believe how nice it is, how much it’s changed,” he says. “It’s not the lake they remember.”
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays.