Hundreds being turned away at state parks, increased police presence

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SNOW CANYON STATE PARK (ABC4 News) – Now that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed an executive order prohibiting people from visiting state parks in a different county than where they live, park managers in Southern Utah want to remind the public that they are enforcing his order, as they continue to turn away hundreds at their gates each day.

Sand Hollow State Park manager Jonathan Hunt told ABC4 News that his staff are seeing visitors on both extremes of the “state parks issue:” some who want a complete closure of the parks, and others who demand their freedom do as they please.

“What we’re trying to do is just listen to both sides and let them voice their frustrations, acting as an even ground on that,” Hunt said. “Most people just want their opinion to be heard. We’ll open soon enough.”

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Hunt said his staff are noticing visitors at their manned entrances whose stories are not matching up, and they’re now asking for proof of residency. If they can’t provide that, they are asked to turn around. So far, the park manager said staff at Sand Hollow have not issued any citations yet.

“We are trying to do everything we can to not make it a law enforcement stop. We have our gate staff greeting visitors, so it’s more of a customer service situation,” he added.

Utah State Parks officials said the governor’s previous directive was essentially based on an honor code. Utah State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg told ABC4 News rangers were not checking driver’s licenses or issuing citations.

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With the governor’s order, park managers are now bringing in an increased police presence, including park rangers they can use as a backup to take a more firm approach or write a report, according to authorities.

“We were seeing an average of about 55 to 60 cars daily that we were turning away, and the bulk of those turning around at Snow Canyon State Park were actually out of Northern Utah,” said Snow Canyon State Park manager Kristen Comella.

Comella said that overall prohibited visitors at Snow Canyon have been very compliant when asked to leave.

“I know that some folks are getting a little bit of cabin fever, but our 44 state parks aren’t going anywhere,” Comella added. “Stay home, and stay safe. We will be here when the worst of this pandemic passes.”

Governor Herbert has made it clear that all Utahns should postpone their trips to Washington County.

The Utah Division of Parks and Recreation announced Wednesday the implementation of an online pre-pay day-use system to allow visitors to pay their park day-use fee online prior to visiting the state park.

Those purchasing a pre-paid day-use pass online will also be asked to verify they are residents of the county where the state park is located, and this system allows visitors to limit their interaction with park staff at entrance gates.

After purchasing the day-pass, visitors can either print their receipt or show a digital copy to gate staff at the state park in order to gain entry, officials said.

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