DAVIS COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – The Utah Division of State Parks, the Friends of Antelope Island, Davis County representatives, and leaders from across Utah met at Antelope State Park today and announced a $13 million upgrade to Antelope Island State Park.

The project includes the renovation and expansion of the current visitor center into a new, state-of-the-art learning center. The center will be used to host large events, welcome more than one million visitors annually, and create space for Utah universities to conduct research on the island.  

“It’s an exciting time to realize that finally after this one was first built in 1996, we’re going to get it revitalized and expanded almost triple the size of what it is now,” Spence Kinard told a crowd Friday morning at the visitor center amphitheater. According to the park, the current “visitor center occupies nearly 5,100 square feet. The new Learning Center will add approximately 15,000 square feet.” 

As a leader of Friends of Antelope Island, Kinard has worked to improve the visitor center for years. He explained that the current visitor center was built in 1996 as a two-phase building project, but phase two was never built.  

According to the park, since 1996, the growth and popularity of the park have far exceeded the demands of the current facility. In essence, the expansion of the center is the completion of the second phase of a project that started more than 25 years ago.  

 “Our visitation at this island is now more than one million visitors annually and continues to grow,” State Parks Director Jeff Rasmussen stated. He emphasized that 10 years ago, the park welcomed about 200,000 people annually.  

“This building is going to help us host those folks that want to come out to the island, and we’re going to look toward two-million visitors,” Park Manager Jeremy Shaw said enthusiastically. “Hopefully, we will give them a fantastic place to come out and experience Antelope Island.”  

The Friends of Antelope Island is a nonprofit organization and was crucial in getting the funding needed to make the expansion of the visitor center possible. However, the organization couldn’t do it alone. The state park needed state funding. So, leaders of the nonprofit looked to Rep. Stephen Handy (R – District 16) with the Utah State House of Representatives to get the funding needed. When asked why he was chosen, Rep. Handy said, “Because I’ve spent a lot of time out here on the island herding the buffalo every October… and I have a love for the island, so they thought I was the perfect fit to pitch the idea to other legislators.” 

According to DNR: “The division was pleased to get $1 million last year in state appropriations for the engineering and design of the building — which has been underway for the past eight months. Gratefully, the Utah Legislature in this year’s session appropriated an additional $12 million for the remodel and construction of the visitor/learning center.” 

The new center will be able to keep up with the increasing visitation. The design of the finished building will hopefully draw even more visitors inside. “And that’s the goal,” stated Jeremy Shaw. “We bring people here, we run them through this new spectacular building, we connect them with the island, and then we send them out onto the island to enjoy.” 

Inside the learning center, visitors will be able to dive into the history of the island, learn about the plants and animals on the island, and get a better understanding of the importance of the Great Salt Lake.  

Not only will visitors be able to use the center to learn about the area, but researchers will be able to expand their work as well. “Everyone has known that we have dire problems here with the shrinkage of the lake,” Rep. Handy told ABC4. “We need to study the lake and we need a facility to bring researchers from Weber State University, the University of Utah, Westminster (College).”  

According to the DNR: “The current building will be remodeled and incorporated into the new expansion as an education center. In partnership with Weber State University, Westminster College, and interest from Utah State and the University of Utah, plans are to include permanent space in the building for research labs, workspace, and displays for the study of the island and the Great Salt Lake. With the dwindling lake level, such on-site research is vital.” 

The design for the new building is complete and construction could begin by the end of the year. The architects involved said it is not often they get to work on a project with so much meaning. Senior Designer Mehrad Samie, with Method Studio, added: “When we approach a building such as this, we want to connect it to the place that it sits on, and the people and the history of the island.”  

As one drives through the many cities close to the park, including Layton City, it is impossible to ignore all the construction going on. As the area becomes more urban, city leaders encourage residents to visit the park, learn more about the GSL and enjoy the peace that comes with being in nature. Layton City Mayor Joy Petro stated, “It’s just that short distance for such a magnificent view and opportunity that you can’t get anywhere else.”