Discussions about switching management of Snow Canyon State Park from state to local control may have a familiar ring.
Kai Reed, president of the Friends of Snow Canyon State Park, sees some parallel between the Snow Canyon effort and the Utah Legislature's demand that the federal government turn over control of some 30 million acres of public lands in the state.
"It is similar, just [on] a more local level," Reed said of the proposal that would create a five-member board to run the 7,400-acre park north of Ivins, replacing current oversight by the division of Utah State Parks and Recreation.
Rumors about Washington County being interested in taking over not just Snow Canyon, but other state parks, in its boundaries surfaced in 2011. But it was a proposed bill by Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, in February that singled out the popular park named after prominent pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow.
Ipson said in February that he was reacting to complaints from his constituents about limited access at the park and a requirement to pay a $6 entrance fee just to drive through.
The bill was withdrawn before it ever received a public hearing and Fred Hayes, director of Utah State Parks, said meetings after the legislative session between county and city officials and the Department of Natural Resources seemed to clear up concerns.
That wasn't the case at a meeting last month.
"It had a little different tone than we had anticipated," Hayes said. "The proposal would basically take us out of the management of Snow Canyon. The say of the state would be minimized."
Under the proposal, the five members of the management board would include representatives from three nearby communities Ivins, Santa Clara and St. George Washington County and Utah State Parks.
Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said he got involved in the meetings "to protect the interests of the citizens of Ivins" as the city bordering the park and pointed out that there is no official proposal. Discussions, he noted, are still under way.
"It has been portrayed that this is an attempt to hijack the park and destroy the park. That simply is not the case," he said. "Discussions have taken place to hand over to the people the chance to provide input on the management of the park. We want to give local stakeholders a little greater voice."
Hart says expanding access in Snow Canyon and "reducing or eliminating fees to Washington County residents" are key objectives of local officials.
The access issue is complicated because many of the restrictions are imposed, not by state parks, but at a federal level as regulations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to protect desert tortoise habitat.
Hayes and Reed agree that there has been some disconnect between Utah State Parks and Washington County residents, but worry that completely changing the management might be an overreaction.
"The division tries to manage these parks in harmony with the objectives of local citizens and local officials. Somewhere over the course of recent history we have deviated from that at Snow Canyon," Hayes said. "We need to bring it back in line with that philosophy."
Reed recently discovered wording in a 1998 Snow Canyon State Park Management Plan that stated that an advisory committee was to be established and written agreements would require the state to "consult with local communities in management of the park related to issues such as development of funding, partnershipping, plan implementation, establishing operational priorities and management direction".
Reed learned that the committee was organized, but eventually dissolved and she wants to know why.
It is possible that the local communities and the county could be appeased by state efforts to address their concerns?
"It is not a stretch to envision that a solution could come without this board being created," Hart said. "However, I don't think that is what Representative Ipson wants. He wants this to go to local stakeholders so they have a voice."
A phone message from The Tribune to the lawmaker was not immediately returned.
Hart and Hayes said there are no future meetings planned regarding management of Snow Canyon, but Reed wants to be a part of them when they happen.
"We are interested in what is best for Snow Canyon. We want to protect and preserve it," she said. "It is complicated and the public needs to be a part of decision process."