SALT LAKE CITY — In the past five years, the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation has seen a 79 percent drop in general fund appropriations, amounting to almost $10 million.
Yet the division's director, Fred Hayes, said he's grateful the Legislature sliced the budget.
"We're glad you did it," he told members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee on Wednesday. "It's changed our whole paradigm. This was incredibly hard for all of us, but it put our folks in a position where they started to think about their job and that they needed to be more public oriented and offer more to bring people into the parks. We appreciate it."
Despite the drop in state-appointed funds, most of Utah's 43 state parks have become self-sufficient and new attractions are plentiful, according to division officials.
The Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation continues to examine the possibility of expanding Goblin Valley State Park to include a 136,000-acre parcel of the San Rafael Swell. The proposal comes in light of a public lands initiative headed by Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, that would transfer some federal lands into state ownership.
An expansion in Goblin Valley was identified for two reasons:
"No. 1, we wanted it to pay for itself. No. 2, we were hoping to be able to fix an existing problem. The neat thing about this proposal is we believe it can do both," said Jeff Rasmussen, the division's deputy director.
Opportunities for off-highway vehicle use, camping and other forms of recreation would bring large numbers of visitors, Rasmussen said. There's also opportunity to make improvements to the area.
"One of the problems is there's a lot of user-developed campsites, there really aren't restroom facilities and garbage collection," he said. "That's what our proposal offers to do is put in some of these facilities that people need. We think there's a lot of great things that can come from this, not to mention, it could bring an additional tax stream to Emery County."
Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said unfinished projects within Utah's state parks should be addressed before an expansion project is considered.
"We need to make sure that we go back and take an inventory and make sure that we have no uncompleted projects before we move forward, or we just get that much farther behind," Mathis said.
The battle with invasive quagga mussels has intensified with the recent discovery of an infestation at Lake Powell. Wildlife officials are working to keep the mussels from spreading to Utah's 25 aquatic state parks and other areas through extensive education efforts, according to Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"We really are trying to bring everybody to the table more now than ever," Sheehan said. "I think we've got some good collaboration with a lot of the water users. And that's candidly the group that we're most worried about."
Last month, DWR inspected 23,194 watercraft and talked with 56,315 people about the importance of cleaning, draining and drying their boats.
Not only do the mussels pose a threat to native wildlife, but water transfer infrastructure throughout the state could be at risk should the mussels spread further, Sheehan said.
"If we get quagga mussels through our major water delivery systems, this state has got a colossal nightmare on its hands," he said.
Email: mjacobs[email protected]