Study aims to balance growth, preservation around Bear Lake

Jul 1, 2022, 8:29 PM | Updated: 8:43 pm

BEAR LAKE, Utah — Bear Lake brings nearly $50 million into the Northern Utah economy each year, all while it continues to serve as a major water source.

A new study is taking a close look at those impacts on Rich County.

During a holiday weekend, you’ll typically see around 40,000 visitors to the Bear Lake area which has a permanent population of about 1,000.

Area leaders are looking for ways to accommodate those growing crowds while preserving the lake as a resource.

Everyone has their reasons for visiting the northern Utah recreation area.

“It took just one trip with friends five years ago for me to make it a tradition,” said Rebecca Lambert.

She and her group of friends returned this year with some friends.

Clark Defranco is one of those friends.

“My first time to Bear Lake and I love it,” Defranco said.

They’re not alone. The crowds seem to keep getting bigger.

“We’ve experienced over 30% year-on-year growth of room rents up here,” said Mark Smoot, who owns Sunrise Resort.

Mark Smoot

About 80% of the housing around Bear Lake is seasonal.

Smoot said, “Taking care of that explosion of visitors has been a challenge, you know. We’ve had new business that have come to town to try and meet that need.”

That’s one reason the Conservation Economics Institute started an in-depth study designed to find better ways to support the crowds and the lake.

“We need to make sure that we are looking at it holistically as a region,” explained Brian Carver, who supervises community and economic development at the Bear River Association of Governments, or BRAG.

Brian Carver

Tourism accounts for some 450 full and part-time jobs. These are big economic impacts but there are also environmental concerns.

“I think it really highlights the need to treat the Bear Lake and the valley as an asset, you know, that needs to be managed,” Carver said.

BRAG asked for the study as a way to better consider the lake both as a watershed and major tourist attraction so that even more people can continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s super nice and blue,” Defranco said.

In the near future, BRAG would like to have a study done on the whole Bear River area down to the Great Salt Lake to find out how growing populations are impacting the river and surrounding communities.

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Study aims to balance growth, preservation around Bear Lake