Southeastern Utahns have waited years for a first-class reservoir for fishing, boating and other recreation.
But since the completion of Recapture Reservoir a few years ago, their wish is coming back to haunt them. Garbage along the shorelines is a real problem, and behind almost every bush are piles of human waste.But worst of all, residents say, are the drinking parties and the threats of violence against other users of the reservoir. On occasion, individuals have been intimidated and forced by drunken partygoers to leave the reservoir.
"Security is a real problem, especially at night," said San Juan County Commissioner Cal Black. "The county and state should be doing better patrols there regardless of who has jurisdiction."
Local residents have approached the Division of State Parks and Recreation about taking over development and management of recreation at the popular reservoir. So far, the State Parks Board has refused.
"Several years ago we passed a policy that we don't create a new state park unless it has statewide significance," said State Parks Board member Kent Tibbitts. "Recapture probably doesn't have statewide significance. It's tremendously popular locally, but someone in Bountiful is just not going to plan a vacation to Recapture Reservoir."
The state's counterproposal is for San Juan County to develop facilities at the park and then the state might be willing to take over management of the facility.
"We've gone back and forth for a long time, but no agreement has been reached," said Stephen Olsen, superintendent of the Edge of the Cedars Museum, also in Blanding. "Maybe someday it will happen, but not anytime soon."
State park officials are concerned not only about management costs, but about the costs of developing such a facility. Currently, there are no toilet facilities, camp sites, parking, designated ramps or courtesy docks - all of which are in demand at Recapture.
Currently, the old highway serves as the boat ramp; the foliage as toilets and overnight campers clear the vegetation to make their own campsites. Garbage bins have been placed on site, but they haven't stopped the littering.
Problems at Recapture are not unique, said Tibbitts. "There are reservoirs all over the state people would want to make state parks, and I would heartily endorse this one as a state park. But the other six members on the board would probably be inclined to support reservoirs in their areas. In reality, though, how much can the state afford to take on?"
Currently, the San Juan Water Conservancy District manages the water resources, but wants nothing to do with recreation management. Whenever someone does decide to develop the reservoir, master plans have already been drawn up by the Bureau of Land Management for the development of a campground.
Olsen said locals are justified in wanting the facility developed, but they may not realize what they are asking for if the state takes it over. The state would charge entrance fees as well as close the park entrance every evening about 10 p.m.
"Without a person on site full time - and Recapture will never justify a full-time person - security concerns could not be addressed without locking it up," Olsen said. "And that's going to make a lot of people unhappy."
Black and others support the idea of the state managing Recapture Reservoir as a satellite of the Edge of the Cedars Museum. And state parks officials agree it would be a cost-effective way to absorb the reservoir into the state parks system.
And Tibbitts said one way around the policy of approving only state parks "with statewide significance" would be to develop archaeological sites around the lake and then make the reservoir part of the museum operation. Recapture would then qualify as a tourist destination point, he said, while the joint museum-reservoir operation would greatly reduce additional management costs.
"We're already spread thin," cautioned Olsen. "We not only manage this facility, but Newspaper Rock, the Goosenecks of the San Juan, Monument Valley and all off-road vehicle enforcement. We've been doing more with less for a long time. But there's a limit to how much more we can do."
Olsen and Tibbitts hope that state parks can work with San Juan County and the Legislature to correct the problems at Recapture Reservoir and see it developed to its full potential.
"If it comes down to being part of the state park system, I'm ready as a manager to accept that," Olsen added.
"And in spite of all the problems, there's a lot of interest in the directors office for making Recapture a state park because of its beauty and location," Tibbitts said.