Utah lawmakers took a break from Wednesday’s eleventh-hour rush for a remembrance and a resolution to name a state park after Utah State Parks and Recreation director Fred Hayes, who died unexpectedly Friday.
Credited with reversing a financial slide at the state parks division that once required millions of dollars in subsidies, Hayes got his start as a seasonal ranger at Starvation State Park, near his hometown in Duchesne County, in 1982. Over the next three decades, he rose through the ranks to take the helm in 2012 — just as lawmakers were losing patience with the 43-park network’s dependence on supplemental cash.
One of those lawmakers was Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, now sponsor of HCR21, which calls for the designation of Fred Hayes State Park at Starvation. Perry recalled how he told Hayes that he was disturbed with the taxpayer money spent propping up State Parks’ golf courses and museums.
“He took me aside and showed me how important those museums are, how important it is we keep even the golf courses for the people in those communities and some of the parks we have throughout the state,” Perry said. “He became a dear friend of mine and caused me to love our state parks.”
Perry’s resolution states: “As a direct result of Hayes’ leadership as division director, state parks have experienced record park attendance and profitability annually and have aggressively been developing and creating new recreational opportunities statewide.”
HCR21 passed unanimously in both the House and Senate Wednesday and now heads to the the governor for his signature. The 2018 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on Thursday.
Hayes, who was 58, had pledged to “fight with our dying breath” to prevent any park closures, Perry said, and he succeeded.
No parks closed under his watch and nearly all but a handful of heritage parks began to operate in the black. A 44th park was recently added at Echo Reservoir and Hayes had been exploring ideas for many new parks, mostly on federal land with high recreation potential, such as Temple Mountain, Valley of the Gods, Fantasy Canyon, Hole in the Rock and Little Sahara.
For Hayes, “more” really meant “more”; he embraced the motto “More people having more fun in more parks more often.”
Lawmakers said he turned the park system’s financial picture around by treating park visitors like customers and investing in services and amenities that they are willing to pay to use.
“He always asked for less general funds because he used private market principles and our state parks were awesome because of Fred,” said Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who serves on the appropriations subcommittee that oversaw the parks budget. “I hope that legacy continues to find ways to be innovative, finding ways to grow attendance.”