SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to add two new state parks in Utah was given the green light by the state Legislature on Thursday.
The Utah House of Representatives passed the second substitute of HB257 with a 63-9 vote, clearing the way for the establishment of Utahraptor State Park by Dalton Wells, Grand County, and the reestablishment of Lost Creek State Park in Morgan County.
The Utah Senate passed the measure Wednesday with a 25-0-4 vote; since the bill was updated after the House originally passed it, the House was required to vote on it again. The bill was sent to the Senate president to be signed before it's sent over to the governor's office for final approval.
The Legislature's decision this week was applauded by Jeff Rasmussen, the director of Utah State Parks.
"Both Lost Creek and the Dalton Wells area have been increasingly popular recreation areas for some time. However, these areas have been lacking amenities such as updated trailheads, restrooms, and other facilities," he said in a statement to KSL.com. "We believe that with the proper planning and coordination with our partners, the Division can better protect these areas while maintaining their recreational value."
The final bill that passed made a few adjustments to its predecessor. For instance, it clarifies hunting at Lost Creek State Park would be allowed for waterfowl only. It also adjusted money allocated to the project, from nearly $40 million that was estimated to complete the land purchases and build infrastructure to $36.5 million. Of that amount, $7.5 million would go toward the purchase of land in Grand County to create Utahraptor State Park.
House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said earlier this week that the money had already been approved to be added through a budget bill. The bill states that the money will be allocated to both projects at the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year, which is July 1.
There are currently 44 state parks in Utah. Lost Creek will become the second park located in Morgan County, while Utahraptor will join Dead Horse State Park in Grand County. Utahraptor State Park will also be located adjacent to Arches National Park.
Rasmussen said that Utah State Parks is currently evaluating "a multitude of recreational possibilities" for both approved parks. That includes hiking, mountain biking and off-highway vehicle access. State parks would work in coordination with the Bureau of Reclamation for water recreation access at Lost Creek State Park.
He added that the division will continue to work with Utah legislators as well as various local, state and federal agencies to ensure the land is well-protected before announcing final approvals of recreational activities for both parks.
The move to create more state parks comes after the agency reported record park visitation in 2020. It's estimated that 10.6 million people visited its parks last year, which is a 33% increase from 2019. Total state parks visitation has also doubled over the past five years as they grow in popularity.
Utah State Parks spokesperson Devan Chavez told KSL.com last month that the spike in popularity didn't level off to begin 2021 either, despite the fact that all five Utah national parks had opened.
"With the increasing demand for outdoor recreation areas, the creation of new state parks like Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park will help alleviate pressure from other nearby areas and give visitors another quality location to recreate outdoors," Rasmussen added. "Not only that, but developing new state parks directly benefits local economies. They help drive additional customers to local stores and businesses, while also creating jobs."
Lost Creek, which was previously a state park until the mid-2000s, was proposed this year as a way to provide more water-recreation state park options. The top three most-visited parks and six of the top 10 in 2020 were centered around lakes and reservoirs, according to the agency's visitation data.
Meanwhile, Grand County officials and paleontologists pushed for a new state park in an area where many dinosaur fossils have been recovered. The first attempt that would have created Utahraptor State Park stalled in a Senate committee last year.
Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann testified to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee earlier this week that a park designation would help prevent land that's been abused in recent years. She pushed for the bill because of the area's prehistoric, historic and now recreational significance.
"I have been trying to find a way to protect this area for five years now," she said on Tuesday. "Grand County and sovereign lands do not have the bandwidth to take care of this land appropriately, and it is so valuable. It's valuable because of the paleontology, the history and the recreation."