To visitors, it's sort of a mini-Lake Powell. Shimmering water amid a rainbow of towering sandstone cliffs, slickrock swirls and sandy beaches.
And the Bureau of Reclamation wants to give it all to the state of Utah. No charge, no strings.But last month the Utah Legislature said "no thanks" to the idea of Red Fleet State Park, and that has a lot of folks in eastern Utah scratching their heads in bewilderment.
"We're not talking about developing a new park from the ground up," said Rep. Dan Price, R-Vernal. "All the facilities are already developed. All they are asking is we take it over and maintain it, and the revenue (generated by admission fees) would belong to the state. The state incurs no risk, just the benefits."
A request for $60,000 a year to maintain existing recreation facilities at Red Fleet died on the last day of the 1991 Legislature. Supporters of the state park concept want it placed on the agenda for the April 17 special session.
"At this time it is not on the call for April 17," said Bud Scruggs, Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff. "But it is a small enough amount that it is not particularly controversial, and the governor certainly supports the idea of Red Fleet State Park."
The Bureau of Reclamation request is hardly a new concept. Recreation facilities at Starvation Reservoir were built by the Bureau of Reclamation and later became Starvation State Park. The Jordanelle Dam, still under construction, will eventually become Jordanelle State Park - anticipated to be a jewel in the state park crown.
The irony of the Red Fleet controversy is that most literature published by state tourism officials already lists a "Red Fleet State Park," even though it is not a state park and never has been.
Last year, more than 33,000 people visited the park, most of them from Colorado and Wyoming. And that makes it one of the biggest draws in tourism-hungry eastern Utah, said Curt Sinclair, manager of nearby Steinaker State Park.
For years, the Division of State Parks has managed the facility under contract with the Bureau of Reclamation. Under an agreement between the state, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management, the state had until April 1 to accept ownership or the property would be turned over to the BLM.
But state parks officials says there simply isn't enough money to operate the facility. "The BLM is willing to take it over," said Jerald Hover, associate director of state parks. "We'll work with them to make sure the public has continued access."
Local BLM officials disagree. "We're not in any rush to push the state out. In fact, we don't really want it," said Ron Trogstad, manager of the BLM's Diamond Mountain Resource Area. "We don't have the money budgeted to operate it."
Even though the deadline looms, the various parties are waiting to see what the Legislature does before ownership of the facility is trans-ferred.
Virtually everyone agrees that Red Fleet, built in 1980 as part of the Central Utah Project, fits perfectly within the current roster of state parks. With 760 surface acres of water and 1,600 acres of associated land, the park offers fishing, water skiing, jet skiing, camping, hiking and an array of other recreational facilities.
"We've even got eight different groups of dinosaur tracks," noted Alden Hamblin, superintendent of Fieldhouse of Natural History, a state park in Vernal. "One group alone has 300 to 400 tracks. It certainly meets the quality standards of a state park."
In a governmental Catch-22, Utah may be forgoing only the revenue the park would generate but not the financial responsibility associated with managing the park, Sinclair said. Utah law already requires the Division of State Parks to provide boating enforcement and law enforcement on all Utah lakes.
State Parks says it needs $60,000 a year to hire seasonal workers to maintain the campgrounds and build-ings already in place.
To Price, the issue is not one of whether or not State Parks makes money on the park or even if the park pays its own way. Rather it is one of creating an infrastructure to restore the economic base of the Uintah Basin.
"If we don't have opportunities, things for people to do, they look elsewhere to live," he said. "It becomes a quality of life issue. Parks, fishing, golf, schools - that's why people are going to come back to the basin."