After decades of waiting, Antelope Island State Park’s Visitor Center is undergoing a $13 million renovation

The renovation and expansion will include a research area where scientists can study Great Salt Lake and where visitors can learn about the challenges facing the landmark.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the visitor center at Antelope Island State Park, April 8, 2022. The Utah Division of State Parks announced Friday that the center will be renovated and expanded to accommodate the park’s growth werden had over 1 million visitors last year.

After state officials and lawmakers secured $13 million in funding, Antelope Island State Park is ready to complete phase two of its visitor center construction project. And it only lasted about a quarter of a century.

The Utah Division of State Parks and the Friends of Antelope Island hosted a kickoff event Friday at which the development plans were officially announced to stakeholders and the media, who were seated just feet from where the new building will be built target.

The park’s current visitor center was built in 1996 and represented the first phase of the project. In the decades since, however, the planned second phase never took place due to a lack of funding.

The need for expansion became more pressing as the island has been flooded not with water but with increasing visitor numbers in recent years. So many that the current center could not keep up with the demand. The state park had more than a million visitors in 2021, park manager Jeremy Shaw said, making it the third most-visited state park in Utah.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the visitor center at Antelope Island State Park, April 8, 2022. The Utah Division of State Parks announced Friday that the center will be renovated and expanded to accommodate the park’s growth werden had over 1 million visitors last year.

He does not expect the number of visitors to drop in the foreseeable future.

“With the development in Syracuse, the West Davis Corridor will have an offshoot to Antelope Drive,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune, “and when that’s done I’d say our viewing could go up to 2 million.”

The growing capacity problem, coupled with an unusually large sum of money the state had to appropriate this year, emboldened lawmakers to allocate $1 million to the project in 2021 and another $12 million this year.

“Luckily we have the Senate Speaker from Layton and the Speaker of the House from Kaysville,” Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, who led the funding effort in the Legislature, told the Tribune. “You know the island. They knew this had to be done and it was just a matter of timing to access the funds available.”

(Method Studios) Architectural renderings by Method Studio of the soon-to-be-redesigned Antelope Island State Park Visitor Center, April 8, 2022. The Utah Division of State Parks announced Friday that the center will be renovated and expanded to accommodate the growth of the Parks, which had over 1 million visitors last year.

The money is enough to completely remodel the existing visitor center, which will serve as an “educational center” in the future, and to add a new building that will add thousands of square feet to the center.

According to a press release, the expansion will include an amphitheater for visiting students to gather, a new drop-off area, and an entrance plaza.

Perhaps most importantly, the money will enable the center to establish permanent research workstations where scientists and students can gather to study Great Salt Lake. Shaw said the park already has agreements with most of the state’s colleges to conduct research at the facility.

“What better place to educate these people about the importance of this lake than here, where they can stand, learn about it and look at it at the same time?” Shaw said.

(Method Studios) Architectural renderings by Method Studio of the soon-to-be-redesigned Antelope Island State Park Visitor Center, April 8, 2022. The Utah Division of State Parks announced Friday that the center will be renovated and expanded to accommodate the growth of the Parks, which had over 1 million visitors last year.

Trying to save the disappearing Great Salt Lake was a focus of legislation during the 2022 General Assembly. A group of lawmakers, including Handy, took a bird’s-eye view of the lake in February, driving home that the lake may not always exist.

At the time, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton said, “The last trip I took to Antelope Island, looking back…it didn’t look like an island anymore,” he told reporters. “And I think that’s a real problem.”

In doing so, the Legislature, with its $13 million appropriation, is getting double the bang for its buck: it’s helping tourist flood one of its most popular state parks, while also drawing more attention to the vanishing landmark that surrounds it.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The dam can be seen in the distance as a red-winged blackbird flies near the Antelope Island State Park Visitor Center, April 8, 2022.

Shaw told those at the press conference that it took park officials 19 days to identify vehicles with a license plate from each state that visited the park. But support, he said, must come from more than just the United States.

“We will have global support through this effort,” he noted.

Design work on the project has already begun and the funding required to start construction is expected to be available on July 1st. Shaw said if all goes according to plan, he can see the new center being ready by mid-summer 2023.

The visitor center overhaul is just one of the recent changes the state park has undergone. A new campground was added to Bridger Bay last year – including amenities such as paved RV sites and hookups, flush toilets, showers, BBQ grills and shelters.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/04/09/after-decades-waiting/ After decades of waiting, Antelope Island State Park’s Visitor Center is undergoing a $13 million renovation

Joel McCord

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