GREAT SALT LAKE

If you save it, they will come: How recreation and tourism are already surging at the Great Salt Lake

Dec 15, 2023, 6:52 PM | Updated: Dec 17, 2023, 10:39 am

SALT LAKE CITY — These days, the Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina are much busier than they were a few years ago.

“We’ve seen the tourism double here since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dave Shearer, the Great Salt Lake State Park manager. “We’ve seen a 40% increase just this year alone.”

In Utah’s early days of statehood, this was a typical site for the Great Salt Lake Shores. Restaurants and bars used to sit near the shore, people would come out in droves for the weekend, and events were frequently held at the Great Saltair.

“Back in the 1800s, there would be 10,000, 15,000 people that would come out here to the Saltair Resort on a weekend,” Shearer said.

Saltair band late teens early 20s. (Utah State Historical Society)

Cars and transportation became cheaper and more convenient after World War II, taking Utahns further away to recreate, and the emergence of Utah’s ski industry drove more people to the mountains. Lately, though, Shearer is encouraged to see the bustle on the Great Salt Lake build back up.

He says people going outside and staying close to home during the pandemic helped drive that, but so have discussions about the lake being in danger of drying up.

“People in the Wasatch Front are really seeing what it is and coming out and experiencing it,” Shearer said.

While a lot of the recreation has been from hikers, kayakers, and swimmers, the rise in water levels this year allowed people to get boats back on the water. Shearer said about 60 boats were able to get to the Great Salt Lake from the State Park Marina this year.

“It is a sailing Mecca,” Shearer said. He says the dense water makes it harder for waves to kick up. “So you can go out there, and you can glide along doing six, seven knots in total glass conditions, it’s great.”

A sail boat on the Great Salt Lake

A sail boat on the Great Salt Lake. (KSL TV)

 

Then there’s the wildlife that drives tourism for birdwatching to the Wasatch Front.

“In the Western Hemisphere, this is one of the most important bodies of water for birds,” said Bonnie Baxter, a biology professor at Westminster University and the director of the Great Salt Lake Institute.

She says the lake feeds more than 10 million birds as they migrate. The lake’s importance to the birds can change how it is managed if water levels continue to fall as they have over the past decade.

“That could mean that the Endangered Species Act could get used to save the Great Salt Lake,” Baxter said. “That would not be that would not be everyone’s preferred method.”

The Endangered Species Act could shift control of the Great Salt Lake away from Utah and to the Federal Government. That would likely change water rights for farmers, businesses, and people in northern Utah.

“Even if you’re not a bird watcher and you don’t go outside, and you don’t care about the birds, everyone should care about that,” Baxter said.

Canada geese, canvasback ducks, scaup ducks, redhead ducks, ring-necked ducks and mallard ducks gather in a pond made from storm water as northern harriers fly above them in the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in western Davis County on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

Baxter says the lake is a valuable teaching tool as well. She takes her students and grade school students on field trips to the lake to learn from and study about its unique ecosystem.

“It’s really cool to teach kids about science with something in their backyard,” she said.

When Baxter’s research started showing warning signs for the lake, she began speaking about it. She was contacted by people around Utah telling her about the importance of the lake to their lives and upbringings.

The messages had a common theme: “I didn’t realize how important the lake was to me until it was threatened,” Baxter said.

As long as the lake has water, Shearer thinks its renewed interest will continue.

“I think it’s a resurgence of the Great Salt Lake, and people can come out here for very cheap and recreate all day,” Shearer said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Great Salt Lake

This week, the Larry H. and Gail Miller Foundation announced a $2.2 million donation to water conse...

Karah Brackin

Miller family to donate $2.2 million in water conservation efforts in Utah

This week, the Larry H. and Gail Miller Foundation announced a $2.2 million donation to water conservation efforts in Utah.

2 days ago

Utah Lake water release...

Alex Cabrero

Utah Lake release sends 300 million gallons of water a day into the Great Salt Lake

The Utah Lake control gates in Saratoga Springs opened Thursday morning to release water into the Great Salt Lake.

22 days ago

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)
Dust lingers after OHVs drove by in West Shores, Calif., on Friday, D...

Saige Miller, KUER

Lakebed dust is a worry in Utah. For California’s Salton Sea, it’s a full-blown problem

Like the Great Salt Lake, there are toxins in the sediment of an exposed lake bed in California.

22 days ago

Great Salt Lake bed...

Mike Anderson

Dust from Great Salt Lake helps algal blooms thrive, study finds

A new study is putting a large part of the blame for algal blooms on blowing dust.

24 days ago

Sign showcasing information about the Great Sale Lake Shorelands preserve....

Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Invasive phragmites are needlessly sucking water out of Great Salt Lake

An invasive plant species is using excessive water around the Great Salt Lake.

28 days ago

A sail boat on the Great Salt Lake...

Carter WIlliams, KSL.com

Should the Great Salt Lake be considered a person? Group says yes, Utah bill says no

A bill passed the senate which prohibits legislation from giving extra rights to the Great Salt Lake.

1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

If you save it, they will come: How recreation and tourism are already surging at the Great Salt Lake