RICH COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) — This weekend, the small communities across Rich County will see their populations boom. 

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer season, which means tourism will be in full swing. As the area becomes increasingly popular, the state is taking on projects to improve the experience for everyone. What may be the largest project is a $60 million marina expansion at Bear Lake State Park.    

“It’s very exciting,” Mitchell Tarr told ABC4.

Tarr has called Bear Lake home for the last three summers. He returns every year to work at a rental shop that sits on the marina at Bear Lake State Park. On Thursday, the waters were calm, but he and his co-worker, Humberto Juarez-Santana, were preparing for that to change over the weekend. Large crowds are likely to flock to the lake for the holiday weekend.

“We’re getting everything ready,” Tarr said. “So, I think we’re just about ready to open up.”  

Both Tarr and Juarez-Santana are excited about the upcoming marina expansion. 

“It’s super chaotic,” Juares-Santana explained, referring to the marina during peak summer days. “All of the other boats will come and take our spots and we don’t have places to park our boats. It gets super windy and becomes dangerous because there are too many boats going on in here.”  

Bear Lake State Park continues to grow in popularity. 

“The word is out on Utah, especially extremely popular places like Bear Lake,” emphasized Utah State Parks Public Information Officer Devan Chavez.   

During the summer, the park can easily see more than half a million visitors. On weekends, the small towns that surround the lake often see their population increase 100-fold. There are many activities along the lake for visitors, but many go out on the lake to boat.

If you’ve ever visited the lake during the summer, you will know that the marina is often overcrowded, there are rarely any open parking spots for cars, there are lines for public restrooms, and there can be long waits to launch boats.  

To help ease some of this congestion, the state will soon begin the expansion of the marina. The new marina will be built just north of the existing marina in Garden City. The state spent months looking at different areas across the lake and concluded that this would be the best place.

More information on the location, a map of the expansion, and the reasons behind the decision can be found here.   

The expansion will create hundreds of additional spots for boats to dock, cars to park, additional dry storage, walking paths, public restrooms, and ultimately improve safety of visitors on busy days. This has marina workers excited.

“It’ll be less crowded here,” Juarez-Santana added. “With all of our boats here, it’s really scary when there’s a ton of boats.” 

Congestion can make the marina dangerous for boaters, and the wind only makes things worse. Bear Lake is known for having some crazy windstorms. When these happen, it is dangerous for boats to be out on the open water.

The safest place to be is the marina. However, when the marina is overcrowded and strong winds are present, the likelihood of boats running into one another increases. All these factors are the reason for the expansion.  

“We need to be able to address those visitors responsibly and do our best to keep the place open and available for people who have been going there for years,” Chavez said.

He adds that the state plans on beginning construction this year.

“It’s going to last a little bit, but we expect construction to start in the fall,” he said. 

He said it will most likely begin in September and should be completed within a year. In total, the project has been allotted $60 million.  

Along with the expansion of the marina, the state is already improving campgrounds, day-use areas, parking lots and beaches around the lake. All these projects aim to improve the visitor experience and decrease congestion by increasing the number of areas around the lake that people can flock to.  

For those who call the lake home during the summer, all these changes are welcome. 

“I really love boating, and I love the lake, and it’s also just super pretty up here,” Tarr said, adding that he hopes to continue returning to the lake every summer that he can. “I mean, it’s so green and the lake is also super pretty.”  

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people will visit the lake this weekend. The weather will be warm, but water temperatures will still be in the 50s and 60s.

Utah State Parks is asking visitors to keep that in mind because it can make swimming more dangerous. They ask those who are out on the lake to wear their lifejackets, use the buddy system, and have fun.