One of Davis County’s top tourist destinations is getting a few tweaks meant to make it easier to visit and to broaden its appeal to rugged outdoors types.
Antelope Island State Park is in the midst of adding a new traffic lane at the facility’s entry just west of Syracuse to accommodate those going into the facility. The work should be done by next week, said Jeremy Shaw, the park manager.
“It just lets us manage traffic on busy weekends,” Shaw said. The new lane, measuring about 100 yards and extending past the main entry gate, will house a second kiosk where entering motorists can pay park entry fees.
Aside from making entry smoother for visitors, Jessica Merrill, the Davis County tourism director, said the new road segment will benefit those who live around the location. “It also will help traffic not back up into the neighborhoods near the island’s entrance,” she said.
Also in the works is a backcountry camping area for those seeking a camping experience that’s off the beaten track. Other Antelope Island campsites are located close to roadways, but the planned backcountry site on the west side of the island will be a 5- to 7-mile hike from a trailhead. It’s to be completed by the end of September.
“This’ll be an actual hike-in,” Shaw said. “More like a backpacking experience than driving up to a campsite and set up a tent.”
As is, Merrill said backcountry camping options are limited in Davis County, one of the most highly populated counties in Utah. Adding the site to Antelope, she said, “only adds to the appeal available for visitors to take advantage of exploring our area.”
The road project has a price tag of around $180,000, with funds coming from the state, while the new camping site will be done largely in-house. Parks officials, however, plan to seek funding from Davis County to help cover the $25,000 cost of developing a restroom to serve the location.
Antelope Island, which juts into the middle of the Great Salt Lake, is one of Davis County’s top tourist destinations, Merrill said. According to a report on Utah’s tourism industry prepared by the University of Utah’s Kem Gardner Policy Institute and released last November, it drew the fifth-highest number of visitors in 2018 among Utah’s state parks, or 496,023 people in all. Shaw said when he started in his post in 2011, the park drew around 268,000 visitors, and he expects the number to reach 510,000 this year.
Those sort of numbers result in local spending, aiding the Davis County economy and factoring into efforts to develop and enhance the park. “Antelope Island helps drive millions of dollars a year in economic impact to the community,” Merrill said, noting that it’s a popular stopping point for visitors traveling from Yellowstone National Park to the national parks in southern Utah.
Among the many activities at Antelope Island — famous for the many buffalo that live there — are camping, hiking, boating, swimming, the annual bison roundup and more. “The sunset out there is pretty amazing as well. A lot of people of course want to try the ‘Great Salt Lake float’ — a unique experience in itself,” Merrill said.
Tourism is big in Davis County, according to the University of Utah tourism report. Taxable sales in the leisure and hospitality sector — arts, entertainment, recreation, hotels and more — totaled $600.93 million in the county in 2018, fourth-highest among Utah’s 29 counties. Salt Lake County topped the list with $3.44 billion sales while Weber County ranked sixth with $441.37 million in sales.