Utah legislators tour Bear Lake

Garden City Mayor John Spuhler speaks with Utah legislators about Bear Lake beach access July 2015.

GARDEN CITY – The Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee of the Utah Legislature met Saturday for a day-long field trip around Bear Lake to discuss and explore different issues that could come up during the year.

Representative Lee Perry said the trip was designed to help the legislators more fully understand the issues. According to Perry, the legislature heard four bills dealing with Bear Lake last year and more are expected this year.

“Two days of this for a legislator would be equivalent to two weeks in a legislature sitting in meetings and having PowerPoints and presentations, but when you’re physically out there looking at it and seeing it you learn much quicker and much faster and that is the reason we felt like this is an important trip for these legislators,” he said. “These are the folks that are going to see these bills, hear about these bills, hear about these funding issues and you’re much better letting them physically look at it.”

The group of lawmakers stopped at several different locations between Garden City and the southern tip of the lake. At each stop a discussion was held and a presentation was given, usually from the Division of Wildlife Resources or the Division of Natural Resources.

The first stop took place at the Quagga Mussel decontamination station along Highway 89. Last year a bill was passed that increased the registration fee for all watercraft by $10. The increased revenue was put toward stopping the spread of Quagga Mussels, an invasive species that has already made its way to Lake Powell. The legislators were shown where the money is going and were able to see first hand the efforts to keep the mussel out of Bear Lake.

“That’s an issue that we’ve had to fund and had to figure out how we are going to enforce and deal with that as a committee,” Perry said.

The legislators then made their way to the Bear Lake marina and weighed the pros and cons of marina expansion. Park Manager Richard Droesbeck explained how crowded the marina can get and the waiting time some users have to launch and retrieve boats. He said by expanding the marina it will double the capacity as well as generate more money.

“When we get storms up here with the wind, we’ve only got one safe haven on the lake and that is inside the marina,” he said. “It just packs things in and leaves people waiting in line for over two hours.”

The legislators also visited two sites to explore issues not limited to just Bear Lake, but statewide issues. The first was the new Garden City Community Fishery. The DWR has partnered with Utah communities to manage community fisheries across the state. According to Lee, more community fisheries are being built.

The next statewide issue discussed took place at a visit to a Sage Grouse habitat southeast of the lake along State Road 30. Sage Grouse live in 11 states and a decision will be made by the Fish and Wildlife Service later this year to decide if the species should be listed as endangered – a decision that is likely to have far-reaching consequences including land development.

The remaining discussions took place on the shores of the lake, both at Rendezvous Beach and at Garden City, where topics of Bear Lake development and beach access were discussed.  Senator Scott Jenkins said a growing population has increased the need for recreational development.

“People want to recreate and they are running out of places to do it,” he said. “Well our responsibility as a state is to provide recreation in some areas and this is a wonderful facility but its not developed where it can handle a lot more. We’re trying to look at that.”

Perry said a similar trip to Moab that involves all 104 legislators will take place later this year, but Saturday’s group was smaller. Most of the legislators weren’t from the area, but were present because of the specific committees they are a part of.

The legislators took a similar, shorter tour of Cache Valley Friday to discuss agriculture and water issues.

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