Feds announce changes at southern Utah recreation site amid spike in popularity

Feb 8, 2023, 7:53 AM | Updated: 7:55 am

The Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Garfield County. T...

The Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Garfield County. The Calf Creek Recreation Site is slated to receive upgrades in the coming years to handle its growth in popularity and aging infrastructure. (Bureau of Land Management)

(Bureau of Land Management)

BOULDER, Garfield County — Changes are coming to a popular recreation site within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as its current infrastructure struggles to handle growing popularity.

The Bureau of Land Management announced last week that it has filed a decision record for improvements to the Calf Creek Recreation Area in Boulder. The approved improvements include:

  • A replacement of current infrastructure, including creek-crossing structures, shade shelters, restroom, fee station and retaining walls. Meanwhile, a small amphitheater, a nature trail and pedestrian pathways will also be constructed.
  • An addition of 70 parking stalls through the reconfiguration of the main parking area, while also constructing new designated parking and widening of an access road.
  • Moving all of the day-use amenities to one area, which will include a shaded group shelter.
  • Adding new camping units. Existing camping units will be modernized and the host site will be relocated.
  • Adding new vault toilets and on-site trash collection.
  • Relocating the trailhead and rerouting the beginning of the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail around the campground.
  • Installing a communication fiber line so emergency phone and Wi-Fi communication can be set up at the site in the future.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management told KSL.com that the project is expected to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million. The final cost will be determined once the project design is completed, which was held up while engineers waited for the decision record.

Construction is expected to begin by the end of this year, though most of the work is anticipated to happen in 2024, bureau officials added. They said the project will be completed “in phases over the course of a few years.”

Harry Barber, the manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Paria River District, credits the Great American Outdoors Act for being a key driver in making the project happen. The legislation, which was signed in 2020, will account for $1.4 million of the project cost.

“The condition of the Calf Creek Recreation Site facilities has continued to dilapidate and worsen over time while the use of the site has continued to increase,” he said in a statement. “By addressing the deferred maintenance at Calf Creek, visitors will enjoy improved public access and amenities while ensuring the long-term protection of the monument.”

The bureau’s decision, filed Thursday, comes about a year-and-a-half after BLM officials announced they would seek improvements to the Calf Creek area because the site’s rising popularity was leading to public safety concerns, especially as visitors started to park on the narrow state Route 12.

This photo shows vehicles parked or traveling through state Route 12 at the entrance to Calf Creek Recreation Area in 2020. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

The agency notes that visitation to the Calf Creek Recreation Area has jumped 40% over the past decade, and has more than doubled visitation during the 2000 fiscal year. About 40,000 people hiked the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail during the 2021 fiscal year, while more than 12,000 day-use and 2,000 camping recreation permits were issued throughout the same year.

Some of the infrastructure, including picnic tables and an access road bridge, were originally constructed in the 1960s. There have been infrastructure additions since, but most of it is aging poorly.

“Much of this infrastructure is either old, failing, unsafe, not universally accessible, insufficient to meet current and increasing visitation pressure and/or contributing to resource degradation,” bureau officials wrote in an environmental assessment report published along with the record decision.

The report adds that the bureau found no significant impact on the area, other than “several weeks” when the entire site is closed (including the closure of Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail) because of construction, once it begins.

Most of the construction is expected to be where infrastructure already exists, while a paleontologist will be kept on location during the construction of a new overflow parking area, on a bypass trail and any other area where there might be new bedrock disturbance. The agency also plans to revegetate any disturbed areas with native trees and shrubs once the construction is over, according to the report.

The decision is still subject to potential appeal until the end of the business day on March 4. The steps to file an appeal to the decision can be found here.

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Feds announce changes at southern Utah recreation site amid spike in popularity