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About 30 minutes from Weber State University lies an island surrounded by saltwater, teeming with wildlife and separated from the densely populated areas of Utah — Antelope Island State Park.
Wendy Wilson, park naturalist, has been with state parks for about 14 years. She said Antelope Island is a unique place. “It’s really, really close to a huge population of
people, and you drive seven miles and it’s like you’re in the wilderness. It’s rugged and raw and very little development, just full of wildlife and nature. It’s just a really cool place to see wildlife and to be in a place that’s open and quiet, unique.”
Wilson said she’s seen a few different species of animals at Antelope Island. The island hosts a variety of wildlife with large herbivores, such as a herd of 550-700 bison, pronghorn antelope, California bighorn sheep and mule deer, to predators such as coyotes, badgers, bobcats, and numerous birds of prey like owls, hawks and falcons. Antelope Island has about 40 freshwater springs that produce about 30 million gallons of freshwater each year and support the wildlife on the isolated state park surrounded by the Great Salt Lake.
Wilson is one of the two people who live on Antelope Island. “It’s really cool to be in close contact with coyotes,” she said. “Almost every night I hear coyotes out yipping and yowling around . . . It’s nice that you know your neighbors are the bison and the coyotes.”
Wilson said many locals assume Antelope Island is just a big dead rock and it has nothing to offer until seeing it for themselves.
“I think we don’t appreciate the places that are close to us. And I think Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island have maybe more of a disadvantage because locals, you know, if you live south of Great Salt Lake or anywhere near it, you can often smell the smells from Farmington Bay, and so people assume that it smells like that everywhere out here, which it doesn’t.”
Antelope Island State Park volunteer Connie Hayden started coming to the island to help her mother volunteer.
“If you live in New York, you don’t think about going to the Empire State Building, or if you live in Paris, you don’t think about going to the Eiffel Tower,” Hayden said. ”Here, it’s the Great Salt Lake.”
Hayden said she’s unsure why locals don’t visit Antelope Island more often, but she’s heard various reasons. “They forget about it, or maybe it’s not as scenic, maybe (because) there’s no Starbucks here — I don’t know what it is.”
Wilson said around only 30-40 percent of the visitors to Antelope Island are from Utah.
“. . . During the slower season, we mostly get visitors from out of state or out of the country that are just traveling though,” Wilson said. “The majority of the visitors we get are from, I would say, Germany and France, and either Japan or China — just a lot of foreign visitors, and then about that many as well coming from other states that are coming to visit family or go recreate.”
Opportunities for photography, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and kayaking are available at Antelope Island.
“I enjoy coming out here because it’s so different every time I come,” Hayden said, “the scenery, the people, the panoramic. It’s calm, it’s peaceful, it’s solitude, it’s beautiful.”
Antelope Island State Park is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It costs $10 per vehicle and $3 per pedestrian or cyclist.
“If you enjoy nature, animals, peace and solitude, it can spark your creativity,” Hayden said. “It can ease your mind. It’s a very calming place to come.”
Two campsites are available for overnight expeditions to Antelope Island, starting at $15 per night.
According to the Utah State Parks and Recreation website, this Saturday at 11 a.m., the park will begin hosting guided tours of the Fielding Garr Ranch, a historical site on Antelope Island. Park rangers will showcase the original ranch house, shearing barns and corrals.
“Get off your duff and come out and visit us on the island; it’s not that far,” Wilson said. “You know, a half an hour and you can be out here.”