GUNLOCK — With temperatures climbing and more hours of daylight, anyone planning to recreate outdoors in Southern Utah will have to find ways to spend vacation time without overheating.
State parks officials at all three reservoirs in Washington County are bracing for another summer of record-breaking visitation, but the team at Gunlock State Park will be better prepared than ever with the recent addition of 30 new campsites and all new bathroom facilities.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday morning to celebrate the new campground improvements, with Park Manager Jon Allred welcoming state partners in the Department of Natural Resources and Legislature as well as local government and business collaborators.
“This is a whole new area that wasn’t accessible,” Allred said. “The day-use area will still be full and there will be a lot of people, but it won’t feel cramped like you might think if you added 30 campsites. Even when we’ve had all 30 sites filled, it did not feel any more crowded – people had campsites to go to and visit, and it just improved the visitor experience a lot.”
Previously, Gunlock offered five primitive campsites with access to vault toilets and no potable water. Now, each new campsite features hookups for drinking water and electricity, a fire pit, a picnic table and access to a restroom building with private showers and flush toilets.
Jeff Rasmussen, state parks director, encouraging attendees to see the new restroom facilities for themselves, a suggestion he said was only half-joking.
“This may sound crazy, but I want you to check out that restroom because we’re pretty proud to have flush toilets and tiled walls and a place where people can have a good time,” he said.
Gunlock’s upgrades were completed in time for reservations to open on May 24, and the campground has been fully booked for the past two weekends. Reservations can be made onlinewith a typical cost of $35 per night for a single campsite.
As the first of 14 similar campground projects to be completed this year, Gunlock’s improvements will contribute to a 20% increase in campsite capacity and a 10% increase in day-use parking at parks across the state of Utah, Rasmussen said.
“Over the past five years, our visitation has grown from 5 million visitors to over 12 million visitors, which is a tremendous increase – every year our visitation increases in double digit percentages,” he said. “This kind of investment and improvement couldn’t come at a better time to be able to accommodate that.”
The economic impact of state parks for local communities has grown in tandem with increased visitation. Kevin Lewis, director of the Greater Zion Tourism and Convention Office, related the data gathered by his organization over the past three years.
National park visits is up 50% since 2019, while state park visits have increased 92%. Revenues from the transient room tax, which is collected by hotels, trailer parks, campgrounds and other forms of lodging, is up 90%, Lewis said.
Looking ahead, the next project at Gunlock will include additional parking and improved access to the beach near the dam. The upgrades recently completed have been a long time coming, Allred said, and fulfill the efforts of many of his predecessors.
“I was reading through park business plans from the 1970s, and one of the first things it said was, ‘Gunlock needs power,’” Allred said. “It said if we get power and water, it will change everything. And in the last four years, we’ve gotten power and water – and everything’s changed.”
Information about current park conditions – including water temperatures, fees and boating requirements – is available on the park website.
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