The obvious question is why? . . . a lake larger than some states, within easy view of nearly a million people, especially around sundown, and you think you could get the few hundred or so people along the shores in the summertime to do more than wade up to their knees and sunbathe.

A lake three times larger than Utah's most popular boating water, Lake Powell, a six-hour drive for most Utahns, where thousands boat daily, and yet winter hits the Great Salt Lake more frequently than the hull of a powerboat.So why?

Salt? Salty water, any boat owner will convincingly argue, will destroy a motor . . . and so they stay away as if the lake grew contagious flu bugs in its bays.

And yet they shouldn't, a group of Utah boat dealers and Utah Parks and Recreation personnel set out to prove last week as they launched everything from low-cut bass boats with high-powered outboards, to 30-foot cruisers with matching inboards and an on-board restroom, to show the lake is truly a boating haven.

After all there are hundreds upon hundreds of miles of open "sea" to cruise, seven large islands to explore, a hundred bays to beach, enough shoreline to stretch across the country, and little more than a Sunday drive from home to launch.

So why don't more boaters use it? The salt? The very element that has made it one of the state's main attractions? It's not true, anymore.

"The salt water will not hurt a power boat, not if the owner properly cares for the boat after a day on the lake," said Don Robertson of Robertson's Marine.

"Actually, the salt content is not much different from what it is in the ocean. It's between six to six and a half percent in the Great Salt Lake, and about three and a half percent in the ocean. It could be damaging if you leave the boat in the water for a long time, say three months. Not for day-trips, though, not if you squirt off the boat and flush the engine."

There is, at the rebuilt, 250-slip Utah State Park Marina on the shores of the lake, a few steps from the loading ramp, a faucet and hose with salt-free water just for such a purpose.

Kent Peterson of Peterson's Marine, explained that it's a simple task "to pull the boat out, squirt off the hull and trailer, and then flush out the engine. It takes maybe five minutes . . . it's the same thing they do whenever they go boating on the ocean."

Jerry Miller, director of the DPR, said his agency has been using power boats on the lake for search and rescue for years with only "slightly higher maintenance costs."

The armada was launched by the Utah Marine Dealers Association last week to, as association president George Malouf of Duce Marine, said, "make powerboaters aware of the advantages of boating on the Great Salt Lake.

"Too many people think its too salty to put a boat out there and enjoy it. It's not that way anymore . . . and now they're missing out on some great boating."

True, if the water were salt-free, the Great Salt Lake would be a boaters dream . . . 2,500 square miles of water, about 500 miles shy of being able to completely cover the states of Delaware AND Rhode Island, and islands with as much history as the state.

Fremont, a private island, was a camp spot for Kit Carson. There's a rock there with his name on it, along with old farm houses and farm machinery. And, of course, Antelope Island, home of the 300-plus head of buffalo and now owned by the state.

"Boating there isn't like fresh water, no, and boaters probably won't want to go there week after week, but for an occasional trip it's a very scenic and pleasurable lake to boat on," said Robertson. Malouf said that years ago the lake was too salty for powerboats. Flooding flooding in recent years, however, has diminished the salt content to where it is now safe for powerboats.

Heretofore, the entire lake has been the private sea of sailboaters. There is, now, moored at the state marina and a small, private marina, about 150 sailboats.

Sailboaters would, of course, like to keep it to themselves. They realize, however, that more boaters, even powerboaters, will mean more improvements in facilities.

One estimate given was that the lake could "easily" handle a hundred times more boats (1,500).

There are problems, however. Certainly some boaters may consider cleaning up after, one. And, there is no fishing in the lake, at least there are not fish to catch. Probably the biggest comes with the winds and the weather.

As Malouf pointed out, "Utah boaters are used to being more than a hundred or so yards off shore at anytime. A storm comes up and they merely head for shore. On the Great Salt Lake a boater could be 20 to 30 miles from shore. Then it's not so easy to get back to shore."

Consensus was, sailors and officials echoed, that boaters merely must watch the weather and head for shore at the first hint of high winds or a storm.

The State Parks, Miller admitted, would like to see the lake put the more use and so, too, would the dealers like to see boating opportunities expanded.

So, the only question left now is "Why not?"