ST. GEORGE — The water is flowing and the level rising, and it won't be too much longer before boats are bobbing about and people are swimming following official opening ceremonies of Sand Hollow Reservoir in April.
Some area residents, however, aren't waiting.
"They're ignoring the barricades and launching some of the smaller boats on the ramp now. This leaves little doubt that this is going to be a very popular place," said Gordon Topham, southwest regional manager for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.
Sand Hollow Recreation Area is a few miles southeast of Quail Creek Reservoir.
Along with a large pool of water twice the size of Quail Creek, and accented by red, sandy beaches flowing from nearby Sand Mountain into the rising water, there will be hiking, biking, equestrian and viewing opportunities for visitors.
In volume, the reservoir is only about 30 percent of capacity, but in surface area it's about half its potential size or roughly 700 surface acres. Its neighbor, Quail Creek, is 600 surface acres when full.
Official opening ceremonies will be April 18.
"There's enough water now for people to use the reservoir," added Topham. "The objective is to have the road and parking paved, the launch ramp open, restrooms in, the entrance station complete and work under way for the first of several campgrounds and a staging area for off-highway vehicle riders."
For now, building continues and the five-lane boat ramp is closed, except to those more-aggressive boaters.
The reservoir will be located in the northernmost end of a plot of BLM land that covers more than 20,000 acres and is located 15 miles east of St. George.
When completed, Sand Hollow will be a conjoined sister to nearby Quail Creek, joined by large water pipes.
The water source will be the Virgin River. During runoff, when the river is high and filling Quail Creek, water will be pumped uphill to Sand Hollow. As the level of Quail Creek begins to fall, gates will be opened and water will run downhill from Sand Hollow to Quail Creek.
Because of the porous nature of the sandy bottom of Sand Hollow, consensus is that much of the water will actually filter down, held in aquifers and then drawn out through wells as needed. It is one of the most efficient methods of storing water.
Park officials expect to see this site become one of the most popular in the state-park system.
Visually, Sand Hallow will have few challengers. The blue water will be cutting into red sandy beaches on almost every shoreline. The reservoir itself will be surrounded by sagebrush plains and long sweeping mountains of sand. Some day, in fact, boaters will be able to bring their crafts directly onto the sandy beaches and camp in nearby campgrounds.
Around the reservoir are 16,000 acres of BLM property, of which about one-fifth is perfectly sculptured sand dunes. This area is already a popular riding spot for motorcycles and ATVs.
Plans also call for an equestrian riding area within the park.
Within a few years, Topham also expects to see a concessionaire set up within the park boundaries, offering food and drink and possible rentals — of boats and OHVs.
The cost of a completed Sand Hollow park is going to be about $7 million. The Water Conservancy Districts, the BLM and DPR will each pay a third of the cost.
"The benefits, to the users and the state," continued Topham, "will be great. There will be so much to do here. Even if the drought doesn't fill the reservoir, there will always be OHV use.
"One study said that within five years the reservoir will open up 77 new jobs and contribute $3.4 million to the economy. In the long run, it will result in 478 jobs and $21.2 million annually."
The fact that Quail Creek has been drained for repairs means Sand Hollow is getting all the water supply. When repairs have been made, then both will begin to fill — and officially open for visitors.