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NEW FUNDS ARE PUMPING LIFE INTO LAKE POWELL

With every purchase of a roll of film, chocolate-covered caramel bar, turquoise-accented ring, or T-shirt with the now-famous rock arch in six colors across the front, comes a few inches of new marina.

With every block of ice, can of pop, bar of soap, box of crackers, bottle of suntan lotion, or jar of peanut butter sold on the shores of the lake, new life is being pumped back into the lake.They call it a "Set Aside" fund, and Lake Powell is the first to try it. There are, says one of its architects, John Lancaster, superintendent of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, similar programs, "but none quite like this one."

And it is, in these days of greater demands and shrinking budgets, the way all national parks are going to have to go, and possibly all recreational areas under public ownership and concessionaire's rule. It is one way, and a successful one, of solving the money crunch being put on our park systems.

It works like this: Five cents of every dollar taken in from retail sales - ice, pop, lotions, candy bars, T-shirts, and even frozen packages of anchovies - at any of the five marinas, in this case run by ARA Leisure Services, new owners of the Lake Powell properties, goes into the "set aside" fund. Money from this fund has been and will be used for lake-side improvements . . . but not just any job.

"Improvements must meet three criteria: They must benefit visitors, concessionaire and the (National) Park Service," Lancaster said. Two of three won't do.

In truth, this money replaces what budget cuts have taken away from the NPS. Without the money, admits Lancaster, the Lake Powell arm of the NPS would be in serious trouble. The last time funding was set aside for new construction was 1984, when the Rainbow Bridge marina was moved down lake to become Dangling Rope.

The fund was started two years ago by Lancaster and Al Earley, senior vice president of ARA. Money from the fund was used to improve sewer and water service at Bullfrog, sewer and electrical systems at Hite, pumping/water service at two marinas, and ramp improvements at Halls Crossing and Bullfrog.

The next project is the new Stateline Marina on the Utah border north of Wahweap. Over the next two years, money from the fund will be put into the marina. It will pay for what the NPS can't, but what it must if the project is to be done at all. Lancaster points out that fund money does not cut into ARA's economic responsibility on the project. "ARA will spend an additional $2 million a year on the project," he points out. The Park Service's cost will be about $5 million for water, electrical and sewage systems, public docks, picnic facilities, roads and parking.

The new marina will be fully operational in 1991. All boat rentals will be moved from Wahweap to Stateline. Other services will include store, fast-food restaurant, gas station, repair shop, shaded picnic areas, showers, laundry facilities and parking.

Lancaster remembers that when he and Earley first started looking for money, there was a major backup of projects. He said that he then did not foresee a time when use of the lake would have to be limited. "But with woefully inept facilities, I felt that eventually people would just stop coming.

"Running something like this is expensive. I don't think people understand just how expensive. We've got $20 million alone in roads, parking lots and utilities."

Budget cuts made it impossible for the NPS to grow or improve its infrastructure. This in spite of the fact that tourism at Lake Powell is increasing faster than at any other national park. Last year, 3,564,944 people visited the area. More are expected this year. Congressional funding hasn't come close to keeping up with the growth, let alone get ahead of it.

Without the "set aside" fund, the NPS would be hobbled, which would have handcuffed ARA, which would have meant that the growing number of visitors would have had to face longer lines for fewer services.

The NPS is now able to chip away at its list of jobs, the ARA is able to complete jobs to compliment the NPS's work, and the ones who benefit most are the visitors to Lake Powell. Which is no doubt why numbers are going up sharply each year and not down.

And is likely why other parks are going to have to follow with a similar self-funding program.