Utah's longest continually lived-in building, the Fielding Garr ranch house on Antelope Island, was open to the public Saturday and will be open again today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Activities include displays of 19th century-period wagons, wagon rides, rawhide braiding, saddlemaking and other Western crafts.The ranch house was constructed in 1848 by Garr, who moved out to Antelope Island at Brigham Young's request to manage the herds the LDS Church owned.
The house is also the oldest building built by the Mormon pioneers in Utah that stands on its original location. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave up ownership of the house in 1870. It was privately owned and lived in until the 1960s. The state bought the southern part of the island in 1981 to add to the northern part, which it had purchased in 1969.
Antelope Island was closed to the public in 1983 after flooding inundated the causeway. After 10 years, the island and park were refurbished and reopened July 1, 1993. The Great Salt Lake State Park is now the largest state park in Utah.
"We want this to become cultural center for people along the Wasatch Front," said Tim Smith, park manager.
"We want to develop a park of regional, if not national significance," he added. "This will become a real gem for the state."
Smith said it is his goal to combine development and preservation at the ranch house. He wants to allow visitors to see it without destroying the pristine beauty of either the property or the rest of the island.
"Most of the response we get is that people don't want to see golf courses and condominiums out here," Smith said. "They spoke loud and clear that they want us to protect the rugged resources."
Smith and Karen Kreiger, heritage resource coordinator, agree about the opportunities for interpretive development, but they want to plot a sound course to follow.
"It spans such a long range of time that it lends it itself to do different periods," said Ann Evans, park historian.
The ranch house is open only one weekend a month. Aug. 20-21 the park will have people in period costume talking about what life was like in the 19th century. On Sept. 17-18, the ranch house will probably have a theatrical group performing works from the 19th century.
Smith wants to be able to open the ranch house every weekend in 1995. He said staffing problems have prevented it this year. This weekend, the park is relying heavily on volunteers to accommodate the increased visitation. Smith said that if anyone is interested in volunteering he guarantees it will be a good experience.
Smith said people should not be concerned about the awful smell the lake sometimes emanates.
"We don't have the lake smell out here on the island," Smith said.
Smith said people complain most about the drive out to the ranch house. After reaching the island, visitors must drive 11 more miles along a dirt and gravel road to reach the ranch house. Estimated traveling time on that road is 30 minutes. To get to the island, take Syracuse Exit 335 off I-15 and proceed west seven miles to the causeway.