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First draft of new state park at Echo Reservoir up for review

COALVILLE — John Schultz wants to fish without wake from jet skis scaring off his catch.

Rhonda Amicone seeks permission for RVs to stay near the water's edge all season long.

And Clair Wilde fears Utah's newest state park will invite crowds so big it will feel more like a major city than his small, hometown reservoir.

The three were among several people who sought to help shape the future of the newly designated Echo State Park during a recent public meeting at Jordanelle Reservoir. Many at the session told state and federal managers they feared overcrowding would scrub the wilderness feel of the former down-home lake.

"You’re asking the people of Coalville to go from a peaceful community to downtown Los Angeles or midtown Chicago," said Wilde, who lives in Sandy but owns land in Coalville. "My hope and prayer is that they will take care of it."

Jeff Rasmussen, deputy state parks director, told the group that he and his colleagues are listening. The plans now in their early stages match modern trends, he said, with bigger parking spots for larger RVs, for example.

"It’s really exciting to build a brand-new state park," Rasmussen said. His agency hopes the new park can relieve some pressure on other popular reservoirs across northern Utah.

Other possible new amenities include cabins with air conditioning and heating, a boat-cleaning station and multiple put-ins for boats, kayaks, paddle boards and other watercraft.

The plans are a first draft and "are not set in stone," said Robert Henrie, of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which will work with the state park system to manage the area.

Renderings of proposed remodels showed four areas set for redevelopment: Dry Hollow and Chalk Creek campgrounds, Red Rock and Ranger Overlook.

The release of the plans follows the Utah State Parks Board's vote on Feb. 21 designating the new area a state park, after federal reclamation officers bought out the longtime concessionaire's contract and sought the state's help to manage it.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources has asked the Legislature for an initial $2 million to kickstart the project, Rasmussen said. He declined to estimate the total price tag of the development that he said will happen in stages.

"How fast we do it and how much we do is going to be dependent on how much we get," Rasmussen said.

He said managers took stock of what has worked and what hasn't at existing parks. They have learned to separate campgrounds from sites meant for day-trippers, otherwise campers tend to take over those areas, he said.

Wayne Pullan, Provo area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the new park borders Coalville, creating "an urban-recreational interface that’s different from anywhere else."

Pullan envisions visitors biking into town and joining hikers, horseback riders and others making use of the 28-mile Union Pacific Rail Trail from the reservoir to Park City.

"I don’t want to build last year’s state park," Pullan said. "The challenge for us is to anticipate needs" several decades in advance.

His office generally matches whatever the state pays for such projects.

The reservoir's proximity to Coalville residents could also pose problems as more campgrounds pop up around its southern Chalk Creek site, noted DeAnn Hansen, who attended the meeting Thursday with her husband, Cliff.

"I know If I was a resident of Coalville, I would feel invaded there," Hansen said.

The reservoir began as byproduct of a Great Depression-era dam. At 1,400 acres, it has become a popular spot for anglers, campers and others.

Wilde, who likes to water ski with his wife, kids and 11 grandchildren, said he had concerns about law enforcement, in particular at one southern beach that has long been known as a party spot.

"Alcohol and boats don't mix," he said as he filled out a comment card. “I’m very passionate about people following the rules out there.”

And Amicone, who said seasonal passes have long been available through the former resort, urged park managers to consider such permits for Echo. Now 37, she said she has spent weekends there every season since she was born and considers the reservoir her "first home."

Comments on the proposals will be accepted until March 15. An environmental assesment is expected to be completed later this month, followed by another public meeting in Coalville.

The park is expected to open for limited use sometime around Memorial Day, Rasmussen said, with visitor fees that have yet to be determined but will mirror those of other state parks.