Antelope Island is known for its scenic beauty, especially in the northwest quadrant of the island at Buffalo Point and White Rock Bay, where mountains and hills overlook beaches as well as the reflecting waters of the Great Salt Lake and other islands that are visible in the lake. A balloon festival is held yearly, around Labor Day. Birdwatching on Antelope Island is well known. Hiking and cycling are popular activities, but water is scarce and there are few trees on the island. Though not strictly a desert island there are no permanent human inhabitants and conditions are quite dry and can be very hot during the summer. Freely flowing fresh water is not readily available on the island, though there are a few natural springs, mostly in the mountainous spine of the island and towards the south end of the island. Water and restrooms are available in the visitor areas of the island. There is a giftshop and small fast food restaurant that is open during the main visitor season. It is located at Buffalo Point. Public beaches, a marina and overnight camping areas are available and popular on the northern part of the island. Observing wildlife is also popular on Antelope Island, especially the large numbers of bison which are part of the Antelope Island bison herd. Coyotes and antelope are sometimes seen close to the main roads and campsites, and bison often wander across the roads, though the bison are most often found towards the south end of the island near the Fielding Garr Ranch. Other activities on the island include visiting the historical Fielding Garr Ranch, horseback riding and photography. Trail running on the island has devotees, and several trail running races are held on the island each year at distances of 25 kilometers, 50 kilometers, 50 miles and 100 miles. Source: http://www.buffalorun.org/
Archeological evidence dates the earliest habitation of Native Americans in Utah to about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Paleolithic people lived near the Great Basin's wetlands, which had an abundance of fish, birds, and small game animals. Big game, including giant bison, mammoths and ground sloths, were also attracted to the water sources. Over the years, the megafauna disappeared, while American bison, mule deer and pronghorn became more predominant.
Around 8000 BC, this population was replaced by the Desert Archaic people, who sheltered in caves near the Great Salt Lake. Relying more on gathering than the previous Utah residents, their diet was largely made of cattails and other salt tolerant plants such as pickleweed, burro weed and sedge. Red meat appears to have been a luxury. The Desert Archaic people used nets and the atlatl to hunt water fowl, small animals and pronghorns. Artifacts include nets woven with rabbit skin and plant fibers, gaming sticks, woven sandals, and animal figures made from split-twigs. About 3,500 years ago, lake levels rose and the population of Desert Archaic people appears to have dramatically decreased.
Artifacts discovered at Antelope Island State Park show that the island was occupied by prehistoric peoples more than 6,000 years ago. There are forty freshwater springs on Antelope Island. The Fielding Garr Ranch was built near the strongest and most consistent of the springs. Archaeologists have determined that human activity has taken place near these springs for at least 1,000 years.
The first Anglo-Americans to reach the island were John C. Fremont and Kit Carson. They explored Antelope Island in 1845 and named the island for the herds of grazing pronghorn. Captain Howard Stansbury used the island as a base. He mapped the lake and attempted to locate where the waters of the lake drained in an attempt to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. The first permanent settler on the island was Fielding Garr. Garr was sent to the island by LDS Church to establish a ranch for the "church tithing herds." The Fielding Garr Ranch was owned and operated by the church until the 1870s for the purpose of providing funds for the Perpetual Emigration Fund. This fund financed the immigration of Mormon converts from Europe to Utah. The ranch house, built in 1848, still stands and is the oldest Mormon-built home that is still on its original foundation, in Utah.
The building of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 opened the rest of the island to settlement by homesteaders. The first federal surveys of the island revealed that only the area surrounding the Fielding Garr Ranch had been improved. This discovery gave the Federal Government the authority to open the island to settlement under the Homestead Act. Settlement on the island was unsuccessful and by 1900 most of the settlers had not improved their claims and, except for the ranch, the island was free of human habitation.
John Dooly, Sr. purchased the island for one million dollars and established the Island Improvement Company. Dooly is responsible for the introduction of the bison, and the foundation of the Antelope Island bison herd. He brought twelve bison to the island. Four bulls, four cows, and four calves were transported by boat on February 15, 1893. At the time there were fewer than 1,000 head of bison in all of North America. Historians speculate that Dooly introduced the herd to the island for commercial purposes with the idea of establishing a rare opportunity for hunters to take the nearly extinct American bison. The twelve bison became the foundation of the Antelope Island bison herd that numbers between 500-700 animals, making it one of the largest and oldest publicly owned American bison herds in the United States.
John Dooly, Jr. assumed responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the ranch in about 1902. He focusing on raising sheep. The Fielding Garr Ranch became one of the most industrialized and largest sheep ranching operations in the western United States. A failing wool market in the 1950s caused a shift in focus on the ranch. Sheep were dropped in favor of cattle. The cattle ranch worked as one of the largest cattle operations in Utah until 1984 when the ranch was sold to the state to go with 2,000 acres (810 ha) of the island that had been purchased by the state in 1969. The last herds of cattle were removed from the island in 1984 after an extremely snowy winter that caused the death by starvation of about 350 heifers and calves. The meltwater from the heavy snows flooded the causeway, limiting access to the island. Ranchers resorted to hiring barges and making multiple trips from shore to island to salvage their stock.
The process of changing Antelope Island from a privately owned ranch to a state park took many years. During the early 20th century there was talk of the island being acquired by the Federal Government for the establishment of a national park. Later the focus turned to making the island a state park. The first successful bid towards the creation of a state park took place in 1969 when 2,000 acres (810 ha) on the northern end of the island were acquired by the State of Utah. The final purchase of the Fielding Garr Ranch in 1981 led to the entirety of Antelope Island being given protected status as Antelope Island State Park.
A. H. Leonard purchased the herd of bison from the Dooly family in 1926. Leonard intended to see the herd to zoos. He found it impossible to get the bison off the island due to the water level and the drafts and sizes of the boats that were available to him. At this point he offered to sell the herd to the Federal Government if a national park were to be established on the island. Time Magazine cites "Congressional apathy" as being the reason the island and bison herd were not protected.
Senator Frank E. Moss of Utah asked the National Park Service consider the Great Salt Lake for inclusion in the National Park System in 1959. The study had high praise for Antelope Island as a potential national park, but found "little else worthwhile about the Great Salt Lake". The National Park service was concerned with a lack of planning by the State of Utah and the fact that the lake was used as a dumping site for municipal and industrial waste. The park service was impressed by the scenic and recreational possibilities of the northern end of Antelope Island, describing it as the "most impressive site of the lake." The qualities of the island were not enough to persuade the park service to seek the creation of a national park encompassing the Great Salt Lake. The park service cited years of "mismanagement, apathy, and lack of any coordinated plan for its proper development." Sewage from Salt Lake City that was being dumped untreated into the lake at the time and waste from a smelting facility on the southern end of the lake were two of the greatest sources of pollution. The park service did express interest in safeguarding the lake since it is a remnant of the Pleistocene. The park service also noted a lack of recreation on the lake and an inaction by the state to positively respond to an earlier request for the formation of a state park.
Antelope Island State Park was established in 1969 as Great Salt Lake State Park. At the time the facilities at the park were minimal. Temporary shower facilities were constructed and available for a "long weekend" over the Memorial Day weekend of 1969. Boating facilities were also available on a limited basis.
In 1971 the directors of the Golden Spike Empire, Inc., a local civic group that sought to promote the Great Salt Lake area as a tourist destination, recommended that all of Antelope Island be purchased. The group encouraged the development of the state park on the northern end of the island. GSE encouraged the establishment of a National Monument on the remainder of the island. Davis County commissioners were against the establishment of a national monument citing the "look but don't touch" rules of national monuments. The local government was in favor of the state park and encouraged its development as a means of attracting tourists and increasing county revenues.
The Fielding Garr Ranch was purchased by the state in 1982 at a cost of $4.5 million. Access to the park was limited to a causeway on the southern end of the park at Saltair that was built in the 1950s. The park hosted a "moderate number" of visitors during the 1960s and 70s. Visitation came to a stop in 1983 when floodwaters washed out the southern causeway. Cars did not return to the park until 1993 when the northern causeway was opened.
Antelope Island State Park is surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. The lake is the last remaining part of a vast inland Pleistocene sea, Lake Bonneville. At more than 1,000 feet (305 m) deep and more than 19,691 square miles (51,000 km2) in area, the lake was nearly as large as Lake Michigan and significantly deeper. With the change in climate, the lake began drying up, leaving Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Sevier Lake, and Rush Lake as remnants. As Lake Bonneville receded it left behind the Great Basin, which is made of narrow mountain ranges and broad valleys, known locally as basins. The Great Salt Lake is endorheic and has very high salinity, far saltier than sea water. The Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers deposit around 1.1 million tons of minerals in the lake each year. Due to its high salt concentration, most people can easily float in the lake as a result of the higher density of the water. The Great Salt Lake is the fourth-largest terminal lake in the world, In an average year the lake covers an area of approximately 1,700 square miles (4,400 km2), but the lake's size fluctuates due to low water levels. For example, in 1963 it reached its lowest recorded level at 950 square miles (2,460 km2), but in 1987 the surface area was at the historic high of 3,300 square miles (8,500 km2).
Antelope Island is 28,022 acres (11,340 ha) and is 15 miles (24 km) long and 4.5 miles (7.2 km) at its widest point. The island is in the midst of the Great Basin between the Wasatch and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The highest point on the island is Frary Peak at 6,589 feet (2,008 m) above sea level. It is one of eight important islands in the lake. The others are Badger, Bird, Dolphin, Gunnison, Carrington, Stansbury and Fremont. Two of the major islands, Gunnison and Bird, and two minor islands, Egg and White Rock are rookeries and as such are protected. Visitor access is not permitted on the protected islands.
The rocks in and around the Fielding Garr Ranch are some of the oldest rocks in the United States. At 2.7 billion years old, they are older than the rocks in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Tintic Quartzite is found on the northern third of the island. It is about 550 million years old. Tufa rocks on the island are some of the youngest rocks in the United States. They were deposited as Lake Bonneville receded between 10,000 - 15,000 years ago. The tufa rocks resemble concrete and are in the vicinity of Buffalo Point.
Antelope Island State Park provides a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Despite its name, the park is most famous for its herd of bison. The size of the Antelope Island bison herd ranges from 550 to 700 animals and is controlled by an annual bison round-up. The Antelope Island bison herd is one of the oldest and largest in the United States. The park is also home to jackrabbits, pronghorn, bobcats, mule deer, coyotes, and several species of rodents. The island and Great Salt Lake attract migrating birds. The inland grasslands on the island provide habitat for chukars, burrowing owls, long-billed curlews and several species of birds of prey.
John Dooly, owner of the island in 1893, with the help of William Glassman brought a herd of twelve bison to Antelope Island. At the time American bison were nearly extinct in North America, having suffered years of over hunting and extermination during the settlement of the American West. Biologists estimate that as many as 60 million bison roamed the western United States prior to the lands being settled by Anglo Americans. These bison once inhabited the grasslands of North America in massive herds; their range stretched across most of what is now the United States, from Florida and New York in the east and south to the Texas/Mexico border and the Yukon Territory in Canada to the south and north and all the way west to the Pacific Coast. The bison were an important resource for the native tribes of the western United States. The United States Government knew this and began a campaign to rid the plains of the bison, thereby depriving the Native Americans of their most prized natural resource and making them dependent on handouts from the government. Without the bison the Native Americans were forced to "seek peace". Some conservationists saw that destroying the bison population was detrimental to the future of the nation and in 1874 Congress voted to stop the government sponsored slaughter. By the 1890s approximately 800 bison remained.
Dooly purchased the bison after Glassman had failed to establish a bison preserve on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. Glassman had hope to attract tourists to the area with some of the few remaining bison in the United States at the time. His venture failed and he was forced to sell some of the herd at auction. Dooly bought the bison with the intention of supplementing his income with private bison hunts. At approximately the same time a herd of elk was brought to the island. The elk did not last very long due the island being a poor habitat for elk. In 1993, 17 elk were reintroduced to the island with negative results; three drowned, three were never found, the remaining eleven survived. However, due to the lack of a natural predator, the gray wolf, the bison thrived on the island and the herd rapidly increased in size.
The island was opened for bison hunts beginning in 1896. The hunting of bison on the island was limited to those who could afford the $200 requested by Dooly and his ancestors. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey and 1920s sports writer Robert Edgren were just two of the celebrities that came to the island to shoot a bison. Bison hunting continued on the island until 1926 when the final "Big Buffalo Hunt" eliminated all but a few of the bison. Public sentiment changed during the 1920s and activists began to call for the protection of the herd on Antelope Island.
The hunt of 1926 was covered by Time. A herd of approximately 300-400 bison was culled to about 50 by a large group of hunters on horseback with modern rifles. John Dooly had sold the herd to A. H. Leonard in 1924. Leonard intended to sell the bison to zoos, but was not able to corral them. He next tried to offer the island and the Antelope Island bison herd to the United States Department of the Interior. Leonard had hoped that a national park would be established on the island therefore preserving the herd. Time Magazine cites "Congressional apathy" for the lack of a land transfer. Leonard was one again forced to change his business plan. This time he wanted to expand the cattle ranching on the island and to do this the number of bison needed to be reduced. Leonard announced a that a hunt would be held in the fall of 1926. The hunt took place in November, but not without protests from around the nation. The New York World and other newspapers of the day tried to arouse public sentiment against the hunt. Utah governor George Dern received formal protests of the hunt from the American Humane Society, Massachusetts governor Alvan T. Fuller and Boston mayor Malcolm Nichols. Governor Dern declined to prevent the hunt stating, "Antelope Island and the buffalo herd are privately owned." The hunt took place with noted participants Ralph and Edward Ammerman of Scranton, Pennsylvania and big game hunter J. O. Beebe of Omaha, Nebraska.
The Antelope Island bison herd and the island remained in private hands until 1969 when the northern 2,000 acres (810 ha) of the island were purchased by the state of Utah. The southern end of the island was acquired in 1981, granting the entire herd protected status on Antelope Island State Park. In 1986, park rangers saw the need to begin controlling the bison population to prevent overgrazing and disease. The first roundup was held in 1987 and it has since become an annual event that brings in revenue by way of the sale of excess bison and tourist dollars brought in by spectators.
Bighorn sheep were introduced to Antelope Island State Park in the late 1990s. The herd on the island was gathered from herds in Nevada and British Columbia. Biologists at the park and with the state of Utah felt that Antelope Island would be an "ideal oasis" for establishing a "nursery herd" of bighorn. The sheep are protected from human threats on the island and can be used to reintroduce the bighorn in areas throughout western North America. The target population for the herd on the island is about 125–150 head. When the numbers are greater than 150 the excess sheep are gathered and sent to new homes.
The nursery herd has largely been a success. The herd is thriving and it is providing the needed animals to re-establish or strengthen herds of bighorn sheep elsewhere. There are some problems. One is the lack of natural predators on the island. There are no cougars on the island and the sheep that grow up on Antelope Island grow up without an "innate fear" of their primary predators on the lands away from the island. Another problem with moving the sheep is the financial cost of moving them off the island. It can cost up to $1,000 per animal. The sheep are moved by helicopter from the island and then by truck to their final destination. Also the sheep undergo a tremendous amount of stress with the move and biologists liken moving an animal from one place to another with transplanting organs in humans. The bighorn are placed on public and private lands with the help of The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. The foundation buys grazing permits from domestic sheep ranchers. In exchange for the grazing rights the ranchers agree to remove their domestic herds.
The wetlands surrounding the Great Salt Lake account for nearly 80% of the wetlands in Utah. The lake and surrounding wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds and form a stop over on the Pacific Flyway between South and North America. Between four and six million birds nest and feed on the lake every year. The worlds largest populations of white-faced ibis and California gulls make their homes near the lake. A large population of black-necked stilts, American avocets and newborn pelicans are also found on and near the Great Salt Lake. Many of the birds come to Antelope Island State Park to feed on the abundant quantities of brine flies and brine shrimp.
Antelope Island State Park is open for year-round recreation. It features a marina, beach, campground and hiking trails. Tourists pay a fee to access the park via the islands causeways. The northern 2,000 acres (810 ha) are developed. There are several campsites, a day use area, swimming area, and picnic areas near Bridger Bay on the northwestern end of the island. There is a restaurant on Buffalo Point. The rest of the park is largely undeveloped. A few old roads cross the island and so do some hiking trails. The remnants of old mining claims and the Fielding Garr Ranch are open to park visitors. There are plans to construct a historic boat display at the marina.Great Salt Lake Bird Festival - May
Moonlight Bike Ride - June/July
Balloon Stampede - September
Buffalo Days - September
The Bison Range Ride and Roundup - held every autumn attracts tourists from around the United States and the World. Bison are herded from the southern end of the island to holding pens on the northern end of the island. There the bison are vaccinated for parasites, infectious bovine rhino tracheitis, clostridium and bovine vibriosis. DNA and blood samples are taken. The bison are tagged with microchips and weighed and measured. The female bison are also vaccinated for brucellosis and checked for pregnancy. With the goal of keeping the herd at a manageable level the excess bison, about 150 - 200 head, are auctioned off in an annual sale that nets about $120,000 for the park.