ANTELOPE ISLAND -- Trading horsepower for actual horse power in the routine patrol of Antelope Island trails, state park rangers plan to be "less intrusive" toward island visitors looking for peace and serenity.
"If you're Joe Public out recreating in the backcountry, you don't want to see a (park) ranger in a vehicle," said Antelope Island Park Manager Jeremy Shaw.
After several horses were donated to the park five months ago, he said, the park established a new goal of using four-wheel-drive vehicles less often during routine trail patrols.
"The goal is to not use the vehicles at all," Shaw said.
In times of emergency, or to get to the island's backcountry when weather demands it, the vehicles may still be used, he said.
Putting rangers on horseback versus in a vehicle, Shaw said, makes them less intrusive for island visitors looking to get away from it all.
"I think it is going to be neat," said Shaw, who rode a horse during the Oct. 26-27 roundup of the island bison herd.
The same horses will also be used for any search and rescue work that might need to be performed on the island.
Getting all the park rangers to where they are comfortable with the animals, and the animals comfortable with the rangers, Shaw said, may require a bit of a learning curve.
The park will give island rangers all the time needed to acclimate to the change, he said.
But after having the horses on the island for about five months now, Shaw said rangers have become accustomed to riding them on occasion.
However, trading out their trucks for horses isn't expected to create much short-term savings, as the cost to feed the horses will offset any fuel savings, Shaw said.
But in the long term, the move should result in some maintenance savings, because the horses will have less impact on the island trails than the four-wheel-drive trucks have been having.
The change in park policy is effective immediately.
The change on the island comes at Shaw's directive and is not a mandate handed down by the office of State Parks and Recreation.
State officials envision the move to horseback may make it easier for the rangers to interact with the public.
Antelope Island State Park visitation for 2012 was up 6 percent through Aug. 31, compared to that same time last year, state officials say.