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Legislative proposals seek changes to 'loved to death' Goblin Valley, Little Sahara parks

SALT LAKE CITY — There can be too much of a good thing.

Ask state park folks who see areas of Goblin Valley in southeast Utah "loved to death" by swarms of visitors each spring and fall.

"Over those high-use weekends, you can have 1,000 people camped down there without a restroom," said Tim Smith, southeast regional manager for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.

Goblin Valley, so named for its thousands of vermillion hoodoo rock formations known locally as "goblins," is part of the state park system but has thousands of acres of neighboring Bureau of Land Management-owned land that falls outside of any state oversight.

"Our visits have more than doubled in just four years, and the impacts are readily apparent on the ground," Smith said.

Under a cooperative agreement in the works for more than a year, the state parks division hopes to expand its area of oversight by a land acquisition of about 10,000 acres. Another 120,000 acres would be managed in a multiparty arrangement that includes Emery County, the BLM and the state.

A legislative proposal, HB225, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, helps set in motion that process, making provisions for either a land transfer or a lease arrangement between state parks and the BLM. That measure and another one targeting Little Sahara were introduced Tuesday at the Utah Legislature.

Smith said such a regulatory change makes sense given that the state parks division has staff at the park and has a visitors booth to charge admission, while the nearest BLM offices are two hours away.

"The place (on BLM land) is being really hit hard, overrun, damaged and denuded," he said. "With a small fee in place, that would help pay for some protections and some improvements."

Eliason is also running HB223, which seeks to include the BLM's Little Sahara Recreation Area as part of the state parks system.

The measure calls for BLM and the state parks division to enter into an arrangement so the Little Sahara Recreation Area is either counted as part of the stable of state-managed parks, or some lease arrangement or land transfer takes place.

Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes said there has been little discussion about the Little Sahara proposal, but there has been concern raised by a constituent over admission policies.

Little Sahara encompasses nearly 56,000 acres in the Sevier Desert, featuring 124 square miles of free-moving sand dunes in Millard County.

The site includes more than 100 camping areas, picnic areas and flushable toilets.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16