FREMONT ISLAND — This rarely visited desert island in the northern Great Salt Lake seems on its way to becoming both a scenic destination and a private game preserve featuring a modern rarity: buffalo hunting.
Justin Barrow, co-owner of Castle Rock Adventures with his father, Dean, plans to open the island to hunting from September through March each year. Hunters would pay between $1,000 and $10,000 to bag a buffalo. Hunting will halt during the spring and summer, but the island will remain open for other forms of outdoor recreation, including hiking and overnight stays.
The Barrows have leased the island for 12 years and are stocking it with buffalo. They have just doubled their buffalo herd to 30 and added 20 head of cattle. Their Castle Rock Adventures — named for the island's highest point — will have buffalo, red sheep, Russian boars, mule deer, elk, pheasant, chukars and other species of upland game birds for hunters.
Hunting will be limited to part of the island; elsewhere nonhunters will be able to experience the animals and the outdoors without coming face to face with the hunt.
A pristine place
Fremont, southwest of Ogden and south of Promontory Point's southern tip, is the third-largest island in the Great Salt Lake at 2,900 acres. It is privately owned and bears little sign of human habitation, having changed little since pioneer days.
Barrow, 32, sees great potential here.
"I'm living a dream. It's awesome for a country kid," he said.
A hunter all his life and a former dairy farmer in West Warren, Weber County, Barrow found hunters wanted permission to hunt on his family's farm and often asked him to provide guide services. Barrow subsequently provided guided hunts in Utah and nearby states and found he had stumbled onto something he really liked and that could provide a living. He also owns Elite Interiors in Ogden, a custom millwork and flooring company.
The Barrows have invested some $80,000 in the venture so far and expect to add another $80,000 to $100,000 to that, building a ranch house and making some other improvements for the comfort of island visitors.
Fremont, about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, might seem walkable as viewed from the east side of the lake, but its many hills make it a strenuous walk, so horses will be available for those who want to take in the complete island. Barrow said he has considered putting a Jeep or two on the island, but ruled that out in the interest of keeping it as pristine as possible.
From Castle Rock a visitor can easily imagine being in any time period in the past millennium. The island's rocks and the sparse vegetation surrounding them must have appeared much the same to Western explorer John C. Fremont and his party nearly 160 years ago. During that visit, on Sept., 9, 1843, scout Kit Carson carved a small cross on an outcrop of rocks about 20 yards to the west of the peak.
Barrow said he has found virtually no trash or other evidence of human intrusion on the island — just an old 35mm camera apparently lost decades ago.
"I tried to get the film developed, but there was nothing on it after all these years," he said.
The Barrows have closed the island's two airstrips to small planes for a couple of reasons: to hold down fire danger and to avoid stress to the animals. Fire is the biggest worry on island; the highest points even have lightning rods. Nevertheless, occasionally lightning will strike the island and cause a fire.
Fremont has three species of wildgrass and sagebrush, and the Barrows are working with a Utah State University botanist to develop a seeding plan for hardier, fire-resistant grasses and plants.
There is hay on the island from its farming days. This is cut every year to reduce fire danger while providing some food for animals.
Hiking and hunting
Realizing some people are sensitive about hunting, Barrow intends to keep such activities away from those who go there only for hiking or sightseeing.
"We're going to separate the hunters from the general public. We want everybody to enjoy the outdoors; it's healthy, and healthy for families to spend time together."
Barrow said he loves animals and doesn't think it's wrong to harvest them, but he wants to provide an experience for nonhunters to enjoy them also.
The price for bagging a buffalo ranges from $1,000 to $10,000. The animals are surprisingly costly, particularly the mature ones. Until his Fremont Island animals reproduce, Barrow has had to buy them from other ranchers in the West and transport them to the island by barge.
One of Barrow's dreams is to have young people visit the island and get away from television and pressures of city life.
"This is a great place for intervention groups. We're in it for the money, but we want to get kids away from TV and let them get close to nature and see animals in the wild."
The Barrows are establishing a program in which local businesses can donate to a fund to allow youth who are terminally ill, physically challenged or otherwise unable to visit the island to have a trip of a lifetime.
The cost of day tours to the island from the Antelope Island Marina will be $30 per person, Barrow said. Tours will include access to horses and ATVs.