Fremont Island, part of Weber County, is now open to visitors.
Getting to the remote island in the Great Salt Lake will be the thing, though.
Visitors “just need to take the necessary precautions and be safe. It’s not easily accessible,” Laura Vernon, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, or FFSL, said Wednesday.
News emerged last month that the Palladium Foundation of Salt Lake City, headed by conservationist Jennifer Speers, had bought the island from its private owner. Last Friday, Palladium donated the island to the FFSL, part of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, paving the way to its opening to the public. The Nature Conservancy, or TNC, a global conservation group, holds a conservation easement on the island that will prevent development there in perpetuity, according to a statement on the transaction issued Tuesday.
Fremont Island, part of the city of Hooper and Weber County, is the third-biggest island in the Great Salt Lake after Antelope Island and Stansbury Island. Prior to Palladium, it had been owned by Bit Wealth of Salt Lake City, with a Diesel Brothers affiliate holding a minority stake. Talk had emerged as recently as last July at a Hooper City Council meeting of developing 10,000 to 12,000 housing units on the island and connecting it to the mainland via a pair of causeways. But the transfer of ownership to the FFSL and the conservation easement puts the kibosh on that sort of thing.
“Fremont Island is an important part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and of our state’s history,” Brian Cottam, the FFSL director, said in a statement. “We are delighted to partner with The Nature Conservancy to ensure the island is preserved.”
Dave Livermore, Utah state director for TNC, noted the millions of birds that rely on the Great Salt Lake, underscoring its environmental significance. “For over 35 years, the conservancy has been helping to protect the lake’s waters, wetlands and natural features. The conservation of Fremont Island has been a high priority for many years,” he said.
That said, with the FFSL taking over ownership, visits to the island by the public will now be allowed. Visitors will be able to travel to Fremont Island via boat or by foot or bicycle over a sandbar of sorts linking the southern tip of the island with the Antelope Island Causeway. The causeway is the road linking Syracuse and Antelope Island.
Fremont Island “will be open to the public for nonmotorized recreational use including hiking, bird watching, picnicking and biking,” reads the press release on the changes. “Limited recreational facilities (trails, picnic areas) may also be built.”
Air travel to Fremont Island will also be allowed, but only with written FFSL permission.
Vernon said she visited the island, traveling on an electronic bike, when she could, over the sandbar. It’s a 7-mile one-way trek, but she figures she pushed the bike for four of the miles because the trail was so muddy. “It would take a toll on your bike,” she said.
Water is currently so shallow around Fremont Island that only an air boat or canoe could make the trip from Antelope Island to Fremont Island. When the water is deeper, a flat-bottomed boat is the best means to visit.
“Visiting Fremont Island is a serious undertaking and potentially dangerous,” reads the FFSL website. “Take plenty of drinking water as clean drinking water is not available on the island.”
Whatever the case, the island, if you get there, has its charms.
“It’s just completely peaceful and serene,” Vernon said. “I really appreciated being out because of the silence and solitude.”
She’s not sure what sort of interest to expect in the island now that it’s open to the public. But she hopes it doesn’t get overrun by the curious. “We do worry about that and we think The Nature Conservancy worries about that as well,” she said.
The island is covered by cheat grass and noxious weeds while pictures depict a scrubby-looking place. There’s some fencing as well as an abandoned backhoe and pickup left by prior owners, which state officials hope to remove.