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Face of Antelope Island changing fast

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Tim Smith is in somewhat of a bind.

The unprecedented growth of the Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island is having Smith, park manager, walk a fine line between commercial development for public and private ventures and protecting the delicate island environment."We want to take advantage of the island without dominating it," Smith said. "It would be really easy to exploit the island's natural environment, but I don't think any of us want to do that."

Additions to the park for 1998 include:

- A 100-seat amphitheater.

- A 75-passenger cruise boat on the Great Salt Lake.

- A 3,000-square-foot overlook deck at Buffalo Point.

- A mainland causeway restroom.

- A $3.5 million paved road on the east side of the island leading to the historic Garr Ranch.

All of these additions and improvements are a result of the explosion of attention given to Antelope Island by tourists - since 1992, visitation to the island park has risen by more than 25 percent to 300,000 visitors annually.

Of all the expansion taking place in the park, only two projects - the causeway restroom and the road pavement - will be paid for by local governments. The rest will be paid for by private businesses or donations.

The restroom, which will be located near the Syracuse entrance, will cost $43,500 and be picked up by Davis County. And the state will pay the tab for the 11-mile stretch of road from the causeway to the Garr Ranch.

Smith said the new amphitheater, which is being funded privately by the Bill Childs family, will be a welcomed addition. The amphitheater, scheduled to be completed in October, will be used primarily for environment education for school-age children.

Traditionally the park has been used by local schools for field trips. Smith said in the past when school groups came to the park, rangers would conduct tours on crowded buses.

"Talking to a bunch of kids who don't want to be sitting on a bus wasn't a very conducive learning environment," Smith said. "The new amphitheater will make having these tours a lot better both for the kids and for the park rangers."

The private businesses on the island are also benefiting from the improvements and additions to the island. Gary Hamblin, owner and concessionaire of Buffalo Point, said public activity on the island is increasing.

"Ever since El Nino got out of here, things have been really happening," Hamblin said. "We are doing everything we can to keep people out here once they're here. We want them to stay for the long haul."

This year a 3,000-square-foot overlook deck has been added to Buffalo Point. The deck stands 15 feet above the ground and can seat 200 people for parties, weddings and receptions and cowboy poetry readings.

Hamblin said that bike rentals will also be available at Buffalo Point this week.

Other activities managed by Buffalo Point are horseback riding with guided tours and wagon rides, as well as dinner cruises on the lake.

"We are really proud of our concession activities," Smith said. "The island and the lake provide many opportunities for people to enjoy themselves.

Steve Ingram is one entrepreneur who is planning to take advantage of the Great Salt Lake. Two years ago, Ingram, owner of Salt Island Adventures, brought the 85-passenger Island Serenade to the shores of the lake. It is now docked at the Antelope Island Marina on the north side of the lake.

With the addition of the $300,000 75-passenger Island Paradise, docked near the Saltair resort, Ingram said he hopes to attract the "local folks" who may have preconceived ideas about the lake being a less-desirable place to visit.

"When I started this business over 21/2 years ago, I did it at Antelope Island because of the beauty of the place," Ingram said. "I want to give something back to the lake by giving people a reason to come out and enjoy it instead of running away from it."

When people give the lake a chance, Ingram said, they can't get enough of the island and (they) tell their friends to go to the island. The improvements to the island will only make things easier, he said.

"(The additions) are long overdue," Ingram said. "The infrastructure of the island is up and coming, and I think it will all have a positive impact, both on the island and the people who visit."