‘It’s just so exciting’: Dozens of large boats return to Great Salt Lake marina as water levels rise
The lake was so dry last year that the boats needed to be removed
Jimmy Ludlow watched as a crane lifted a nearby boat up into the overcast sky and over toward the Great Salt Lake State Park marina, where it was carefully placed into the water and one of many boat slips.
“It’s just so exciting to have this much water in the lake,” said Ludlow, of Salt Lake City, as he stood in the marina parking lot Tuesday morning. “In the fall, this was just mud through the marina here. To have this much water and know more is coming — it's really cool.”
Moments later, it was his boat’s turn. Crews helped him slip yellow straps around his boat, Edgewater, and hoisted it into the air. He held onto a rope and watched as the crane lowered it back into the Great Salt Lake.
Edgewater is one of a little more than 30 larger boats that was brought back to the lake as a part of a “crane day” hosted by the Utah Division of State Parks. The various boat owners paid to get their larger vessels back into the water with the help of the agency after the lake was so dry last year that all the boats needed to be removed.
“The Great Salt Lake is pretty much back open for a number of boats,” said Devan Chavez, the division’s spokesman.
The event is a reversal of what happened last year after the Great Salt Lake dropped to its lowest water levels since records of its levels were first tracked more than 175 years ago, as a result of overconsumption and a severe drought. All of the boats that are typically docked at the marina had to be removed before the end of summer because there wasn't much water left in the marina.
Chavez explained that there have been days when boats had to be taken out of the marina, but it had never gotten so bad that the entire marina had to be closed "as much as we did."
“We never had to say the state park marina is closed because there's no water in it,” he said. “That happened to a number of state parks because of these historic-low drought levels ... which wasn't something that people were used to seeing.”
The conditions were so bad in the Great Salt Lake that the U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks water levels at a site in the marina, couldn't even measure the lake's levels because it was too dry from late September through mid-December to get an actual reading. The federal agency estimates that the lake got as low as 4,188.2 feet elevation in early November.
The lake’s fortunes began to change around that same time, though. Utah ended up with a record 30-inch snowpack because of a series of storms between late October and April. Now that most of the snow has melted, the Geological Survey says water levels at the marina are a little more than 5½ feet above its estimated low point.
It's enough water for boating to resume in the lake.
Tuesday's event was similar to a “soft launch” with smaller vessels in April, Chavez said. Nearly two dozen boats were launched into the water at that time through the marina's small launch ramp.
While Ludlow was excited to get his boat back into the water, he said the past few months are a reminder of the importance of water conservation and ensuring that water ends up in the Great Salt Lake. That's especially a concern for boaters because there's no guarantee that the lake won't return to its record-low 2022 levels in the near future.
Chavez adds that boating's availability in the marina could also help in this effort, too. Visitation at the marina has gone up over the past few years even as the lake shrinks.
“Outdoor recreation ... is a great first stop in your journey in learning and caring more about the Great Salt Lake,” he said. “I think it can really deepen your understanding and cause you to learn a little more about it and, in turn, care more about it and help preserve it for future generations.”