Like the final scramble up a talus field, the view for Utah’s hikers is improving bit by bit.
Over the past week and a half, the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation has been expanding the recreation options for the state’s hikers as well as mountain and road bikers, off-roaders and water sports enthusiasts. As of Friday, anyone in need of a change of scenery from the walls of their house or apartment could find it at all but four of the state’s parks.
That hasn’t been the situation for nearly a month. As part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive, issued March 27 in response to the coronavirus outbreak, state parks were only open to the residents of the county in which the park is located. Since the counties with the largest populations also tend to be those with the smallest footprint, this created some consternation for people trying to practice social distancing while also enjoying the outdoors. Trails along Mill Creek Canyon and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons near Salt Lake City were packed at all hours. Meanwhile, Antelope Island in Davis County stood nearly vacant despite offering 45 miles of trails just an hour’s drive from the city.
That’s no longer the case. By Friday, all state parks except Dead Horse Point, Echo, Rockport and the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail were fair game.
Nathan Schwebach, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the changes were spurred more by the relaxing of Herbert’s order and county health restrictions than by concerns about overcrowding.
“We had to take a look at county health orders to see which parks we could open,” Schwebach said. “We opened those that were in line with [their] county’s health orders. Others came online as counties adjusted their orders.”
About 20 of the most popular state parks — including Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake, East Canyon and Snow Canyon — lifted their residency restrictions April 17. Most of the rest opened to the general public Thursday. Those in Carbon and Emery counties got in line Friday.
Those parks that still have residency restrictions are located in Summit and Grand counties, which have rules more stringent than the state’s.