Changes coming to Antelope Island State Park — including a fee hike

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man snaps a selfie on Antelope Island, May 19, 2020.

As Antelope Island attracts more visitors each year, state and county leaders are looking to make the park more efficient for Utahns, but also a bit more expensive.

About $2.3 million annually is generated from the state park, Lorene Kamalu, chair of the Davis County Commission, said in an interview. "It is one of the highest grossing parks in the state, and it’s just becoming more and more popular.”

But popularity comes with a price. State officials plan to raise the entrance fee from $10 currently to $15 for regular visitors and from $5 to $10 for seniors 62 and older starting next Thursday.

“Park entrance fees are used to enhance the visitor experience, fund park operations, and to maintain park facilities and infrastructure,” Scott Strong, deputy director for the division of parks and recreation told The Tribune. “Every dollar that is collected at a state park is reinvested into state parks.

He said the state operates all of Utah’s scenic and recreation parks with user fees and that less than 7.5% of the division’s funding this year came from taxpayer dollars. “General fund money that is appropriated to state parks is used to run state parks’ museums and heritage parks."

Strong said the state plans to improve Antelope Island State Park by building a second entrance lane, maintaining nearly 40 miles of road on the island, improving trailheads, building mountain bike trails, adding more pavilions, grading and opening the road south of the Fielding Garr Ranch and installing new restrooms.

Kamalu echoed the need for a second entrance lane, saying the single gate at the park entrance backs up a long way on busy days.

“The visitation to this park has gone crazy, that’s in the words of the park manager," she said in an interview. “There’re more and more people coming, which means that the backup can continue to get worse and they’ve been even having double digit growth.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Antelope Island's seven-mile causeway, May 19, 2020.

The park offers an online payment system that could speed things along but many visitors choose not to take advantage of it despite numerous signs along the causeway road.

The state is working on changing the gate this year, but Kamalu said it would really help “if it’s faster when people pull up to the window.”

Right now Antelope Island State Park collects a $2 causeway fee for Davis County for each car, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian that enters the park and the county uses this revenue to maintain the causeway.

But the current fee structure is fairly complex. When you enter the park, you have to punch three buttons for different fees — a park fee, an internal wildlife fee and a county causeway fee — which slows traffic.

The Division of Parks and Recreation approached Davis County commissioners this week, encouraging them to revise the causeway fee memorandum of understanding (MOU).

“What they’d really like to do is ... study the numbers to see if it makes sense to replace the $2 per vehicle fee to be something more like 10% of the total revenue collected," Kamalu said. But state and county leaders haven’t determined exactly what this would look like yet.

The goal is to move traffic along more quickly at the gate by switching from having three different fees at the park entrance to one fee. Kamalu said this would make camping fees less complicated as well.

This change would also bring in more revenue for Davis County. Strong said over the past eight years, the state has paid the county an average of $204,181 per year in causeway fees. If Davis County agrees to the new MOU, state parks would pay the county about $225,000 in 2021 and about $250,000 in 2022.