Bear Lake Catching on for Vacation Getaways

Bear Lake Catching on for Vacation Getaways

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GARDEN CITY, Utah (AP) -- Once an undiscovered patch of Western paradise, Bear Lake is now a booming business for developers and real estate agents.

Frank Smith moved here a decade ago and wondered then why the area wasn't already a vacation hot spot.

"I couldn't understand why it wasn't Lake Tahoe already," said Smith, a real estate broker and developer. "I thought, 'This is beautiful. You have the lake and national forest all around, and it's halfway between Jackson and Park City. What's up with this?"'

Ten years ago the bottom had fallen out of the real estate market in Bear Lake leaving behind a wake of bankrupt developers. A listing over $150,000 was hard to sell, and $8,000 could buy a lot of land.

Today, quarter-million dollar seasonal homes are popping up all over Garden City.

Over the last three years, 5,000-square-foot homes have taken over what used to be a quaint, small cabin market.

"The trend out here is to build bigger and nicer homes," said Garden City Mayor Ken Hansen. "There's a lot of building going on in Garden City right now."

The prices have also reflected that trend.

"Now almost everything going up is over $250,000 to $400,000," Smith said.

Land that was selling for $8,000 an acre a decade ago is fetching around $40,000 to $50,000 for a one-acre lot.

Building permits have steadily risen each of the last three years. The city issued 104 permits in 2000, 114 in 2001 and 121 in 2002.

"We've had an increase in visitors over the last three years," said Judy Holbrook, tourism director for the Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Utah side has gone up by about 5 to 10 percent a year over the last three years."

Parks on the Utah side of the lake drew 300,534 visitors in 2002, and another 73,405 people visited on the Idaho side.

The numbers don't take into account the number of guests at the area's hotels and campgrounds.

"I'd say it's just starting to get to the point where the rest of the world is starting to discover what is here," Smith said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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