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Antelope Island rangers mounting up

Published December 10, 2012 10:37 am

Donated horses Patches and Didi help patrolling the backcountry.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Antelope Island • John Sullivan may soon need to build a hitching post in front of his house. He definitely needs one at the office.

Sullivan, assistant park manager at Antelope Island State Park, and fellow ranger Bob Rosell have a new, yet distinctly old, way to patrol the 28,000-acre island on the Great Salt Lake. And it may require a change of uniform.

"For years we have patrolled the backcountry with some sort of ATV [all-terrain vehicle] or pickup truck," said Antelope Island State Park Manager Jeremy Shaw. "There is nothing more annoying for someone hiking, biking or riding a horse than having a law enforcement guy come around the corner in a truck."

So this past spring Shaw started looking at the possibility of law enforcement patrols on horseback on the remote stretches of the island.

A policy was completed, approval granted, horses donated and the rangers have taken a few exploratory patrols. Shaw expects each man to climb into the saddle at least one day each week to patrol the 40-plus miles of trails on Antelope Island. Shaw expects that the number of horseback rides will increase as the rangers become more accustomed to their new rides.

"We are excited about these new mounted patrols. We've had horseback use on the island for a long time, and this addition should make it easier for our staff to better interact with backcountry visitors," said Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes.

Shaw put out the word that he was looking for good steeds and the response was quick. Two quarter horses were donated to the park. One came from a man who inherited a bunch of horses and wasn't sure what to do with all of them, and the other was donated by a woman who heard from her veterinarian that horses were being sought for patrols on Antelope Island.

Patches and Didi now share a corral behind the Antelope Island State Park headquarters near the bison corrals.

The thought of riding a horse as part of his duties is something Sullivan is looking forward to even if it means he might be showing up in pictures on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of tourists from all over the world.

"I guess I'm one of those old-world romantics. There is something pretty cool about being a ranger in the backcountry on horseback. I'm really excited about the whole thing," said Sullivan, who lives on the island. "We had a horse when I was here before, and I'm now looking at buying our own horse. I won't even need a trailer."

Backcountry trails on the island are nonmotorized. Hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed on designated trails.

Rangers could, and have, patrolled Antelope Island on foot, but carrying the tools they need is easier on horseback. They can cover more ground as well.

"It is hard to carry the things rangers are expected to have in case of any kind of emergency on a bike," Shaw said. "Horses can also go places ATVs and bikes can't always make it if we have people off-trail."

These aren't the first working horses on the island. The Antelope Island State Park volunteer trail patrol currently has about 10 riders. The rangers are looking forward to being able to ride along with the volunteers.

The mounted patrols will require a uniform change.

"We may have to modify some of the things we wear," Sullivan said. "Everybody will be disappointed if we aren't wearing cowboy hats and Western garb. I think I may have to get some chaps."

Hitching posts may not only be needed at headquarters in the future. Shaw hinted that backcountry campsites and yurts for visitors are something he is thinking of implementing on Antelope Island.

"This is a good fit for the island," Shaw said. "It is kind of what visitors to the island expect to see anyway."

BrettP@sltrib.com