HUNTSVILLE — Last summer as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified and worries about contracting the virus put a halt to public activities, many turned to the outdoors.
Pineview Reservoir, notably, saw a huge uptick in traffic among people looking for a place where they could get out of the house without facing an undue risk of getting sick. Now, even as the COVID-19 threat is seemingly on the wane, officials are bracing for another heavy season, saying crowds this summer may be just as big as they were last year.
“To be honest with you, I’m anticipating the same large crowds,” said Jim Truett, the Huntsville mayor.
This time, though, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, Weber County commissioners, Huntsville officials and U.S. Forest Service reps — among the key actors in managing the area — are hoping they’re more prepared with last year’s experience under their belt. Indeed, Sheriff Ryan Arbon anticipates more patrolling around the reservoir this year, thanks in part to the hiring of additional officers. Causey Reservoir further west is getting increased visitation and traffic there has likewise been a point of discussion.
County Commissioner Gage Froerer, meantime, says county officials are mulling a hike in the fines for illegal parking around Pineview, a big issue last year as visitors sought out increasingly scarce places to park their cars amid the rush of people. As is, the county fine for illegal parking is $40, and Froerer suspects some, absent other options, would park their cars where they could and accept the fine as part of the cost of having a day of fun at Pineview. Officials are looking at boosting the fine to $50, equalling the fine for illegal parking in the town of Huntsville, or raising the fine for repeat parking offenses.
Whether higher fines, if ultimately implemented, have the hoped-for deterrent effect remains open to debate. At this stage, though, “I’m willing to try anything,” said Sean Harwood, head of the US. Forest Service’s Ogden Ranger District. The fines currently in effect, he said, don’t seem to be deterring anybody.
Arbon isn’t so sure crowds this coming summer will surpass last year’s since many of the traditional summer activities cancelled last year due to COVID-19 are coming back. The varied summer festivals held by Weber County’s various cities are set to return, Ogden Pioneer Days will be back, Farmers Market Ogden is scaling back up to its normal size and more. Visitation at the varied beaches and other facilities around Pineview has been on the rise over the years, though, and if nothing else, the sheriff expects the number of visitors to exceed 2019 figures.
Traffic has “been a problem for a long time and we see that continuing to be a problem,” Arbon said.
Pressuring on the side of an increase in activity, Truett said, is the lower level of Pineview Reservoir, 18 feet below the norm. That creates more space for the public to spread out, encouraging visitation. “It will open up more beach access. I anticipate a lot of people will be coming. They want to sit at the beach someplace and dip their toes in the water,” he said.
Plans are in the works to add parking around the varied beaches and other key stopping points around Pineview. The feds have allocated some $600,000 to help on that score. Still, actual upgrades aren’t expected until next year as officials chart out a plan of action and decide where the priority areas are. Safety is a big consideration since much of the illegal parking occurs on the edge of the roadways that surround Pineview, adjacent to autos whizzing by.
Harwood said the areas under consideration for increased parking are the Spring Creek and Pelican Beach areas north of Huntsville, the Old Highway area on the reservoir’s northern end, and the BOR and Windsurfer Beach areas on the western side of Pineview. He’s hoping for enough funding next year to implement upgrades to two of the locations.
Only some areas require payment for parking, but over the long haul Froerer envisions requiring payment at all parking locations around Pineview. With traffic and visitation expected to trend upward as the area’s population grows, he even talks of implementing a shuttle system to haul visitors to the varied sites around Pineview.