Infrastructure upgrades sought at Utah’s Calf Creek Recreation Space as its recognition soars

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BOULDER, Garfield County – State governments are looking for a plan that could increase parking and improve infrastructure in a recreational area within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has grown in popularity over the past decade.

The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday unveiled a proposed plan for the Calf Creek Recreation Site that includes the ability to build a new overflow and expand or reconfigure the main parking lot and widen an access road that joins State Route 12 the parking lot and campsite.

Other possible improvements that are proposed include the modernization of campsites and the addition of new camping units as well as the replacement of the old infrastructure such as the toll station of the recreation area, the toilet building, shade dispenser or an access road bridge in the area. A communication fiber line could be installed to allow digital billing or even emergency calls in the area.

The popular Lower Calf Creek Trail trailhead could also be rerouted around the recreation area’s campground so hikers don’t have to walk through campsites to get on the trail.

“Our goal is to implement additional measures that improve the visitor experience while improving public access, security and reducing resource degradation,” said Vicki Tyler, director of the office’s Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument, in a statement on Tuesday.

The Calf Creek Recreational Site dates back to the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Recreational facilities such as nine camping units, a group picnic area, bridges, toilets, roads and a water system were developed in the early 1960s, according to a document drawn up by the BLM. The Lower Calf Creek Trail was then completed in 1968.

The recreation area was later included in the national monument designated in 1996; However, according to Tyler, it has really grown in popularity over the past decade. In fact, the office now views the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trails as one of, if not the largest, natural stretch along SR 12 between Bryce Canyon National Parks and Capitol Reef.

While this is helping to expand Utah recreation, state government officials are concerned that the resort area has essentially become a victim of its own popularity. Not only is it difficult to find a campsite in the recreation area, but it is also difficult to find parking for those who stop by to explore the falls, which has only created new safety concerns.

It is not uncommon for visitors to be “parked on numerous undesignated hard shoulder” along the SR12 leading to the access road or even on the access road itself during the region’s “visiting season”, officials wrote in a document about the project.

This season has just gotten longer. When outdoor recreation experienced a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, tied to people looking for safe and fun things to do, the office wrote that demand for recreation in Calf Creek at times even led to it being along the SR12 was parked within half a mile of the entrance to the recreation area.

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

“This area (SR 12) is curvy, narrow with little to no hard shoulder and with steep inclines going east (north) from the entrance to the recreation area. This resulted in pedestrians running around blind curves in the lanes,” it says the document document. “Also, the entrance to the recreation area is narrow and the layout of the main parking lot is not efficient for parking or traffic flow.”

The document states that possible plans include expanding the current parking lot with around 30 stalls. An overflow car park would be built near the entrance to the site, adding 40 stalls. There would also be 15 designated parking spaces along the construction site road that connects the SR 12 with the current parking lot.

The access road bridge built in the 1960s was found to be “poor condition” after an inspection in 2019, which is why this is also included in the proposal.

This map created by the Bureau of Land Management shows the project map for the Calf Creek Recreation Site in Boulder, Utah.  The project area is estimated at around 17 hectares.This map created by the Bureau of Land Management shows the project map for the Calf Creek Recreation Site in Boulder, Utah. The project area is estimated at around 17 hectares. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

In addition, five new walk-in campsites and four new car campsites are to be added. The site currently has 13 campsites.

“All campsites would be equipped with accessible tables and fire rings as well as tent pads that are flush with the floor,” says the document. “Existing shelters would be replaced and new shelters installed at other locations if funding was possible.”

Other changes would be a new vaulted toilet on the west side of the stream and another new toilet in the overflow car park. New picnic tables should be installed to replace the old ones built in the 1960s while working to preserve “as many of the oaks as possible” that remain in the area.

Funding for the project would come from the Great American Outdoors Act, which Congress passed last year, as well as income from recreation fees and “other funding sources,” according to the BLM. If approved, construction on the proposed upgrades would begin in 2022.

Harry Barber, BLM’s Paria River district manager, said he believes the project “should help improve customer service in Calf Creek for years to come”.

With the announcement of the project proposal, a 30-day public comment period on the project was opened on Tuesday. Anyone who would like to comment on the project can do so on the BLM website. The public comment period ends on June 30th at 11:59 p.m.

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