Hundreds arrive at Gunlock the day after officials shut off falls

Southern Utah News
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GUNLOCK (ABC4 News) — Officials say the mesmerizing falls below Gunlock Reservoir, which have only appeared three times in the past 10 years, are now closed due to the high number of visitors flocking to the area in recent weeks. But so far, high winds have kept the falls running, and ABC4 News saw hundreds of visitors at Gunlock State Park Thursday afternoon.

“It was a heartache for us to have to make this decision,” Gunlock State Park Manager Jon Allred told ABC4 News. “We care about the people and our visitors, and we care that people recreate responsibly. This is the decision that we felt like we had to make to keep people safe and socially distanced.”

Allred said he wants to thank those who did practice social distancing while recreating at the state park since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Over the weekend, officials said the overwhelming crowds lead to first responders saving a Las Vegas woman who they say had jumped into the falls and likely landed on an unseen boulder. Allred added the public left behind 5-trailers-worth of litter for volunteers and staff to clean up.

RELATED: Residents spearhead cleanup efforts after Gunlock State Park trashed with litter

While a Utah man was killed last summer after jumping 60 feet into the falls, park officials said the decision to stop the falls this year is about protecting COVID-19 directives and guidelines, adding that they will continue to limit visitation as much as possible. When the parks reach capacity, no one else will be allowed in, and park staff are encouraging visitors to continue recreating responsibly and locally.

Utah State Parks spokesperson Eugene Swalberg said the Washington County Water Conservancy District, which owns and operates the reservoir, has the ability to let water out through the base of the dam, which lowers the reservoir level to the point that water does not flow over the spillway and create the falls. This modification will not impact flows into the Santa Clara River or downstream uses, officials said.

Swalberg said Utah State Parks is also increasing traffic measures and enforcement in the area to help mitigate congestion. Parking near the falls and within the state park will be restricted to designated parking areas only, and limited to the west side of the road along Gunlock Road.

RELATED: New restrictions set at overcrowded state parks in Southern Utah

Visitors are encouraged to:

  • Check park conditions online and individual state park social media accounts. Extensive wait times, capacity, and other updates will be posted there. 
  • Choose to visit a state park during a weekday, or during non-peak hours whenever possible. Visit parks that are close to home.
  • Practice safe social distancing. Give others at least six-feet of separation on trails, golf courses, fishing docks, overlooks, and other gathering areas. 
  • Avoid congregating at trailheads and other common areas and maintain small group sizes.
  • Stay home if you’re sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus.
  • Keep parks and recreation areas clean by packing out what you pack in, and respect facility closures like visitor centers, campgrounds, and restrooms.
  • Visitors can also prepay for day use at select state parks at stateparks.utah.gov.

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