Zion National Park needs major upgrades. Here are some ideas, from the editorial board

The jewel of Utah’s national parks is in danger of being overwhelmed by visitors.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) In September 2021, with 4.05 million+ visitors, Zion National Park is on course to have its busiest year ever, surpassing 4.5 million visitors in 2019.

“Nobody goes there anymore. There are too many people.”

– Yogi Berra

The national parks that lie within Utah’s borders are, for many, his pride and joy. Hundreds of thousands of acres that contain some of the most striking landscapes on the planet, held in trust for all mankind by the government and people of the United States.

These parks attract millions of visitors each year, visitors who leave millions of dollars in spending behind, which in turn supports jobs and the local tax base. And it will certainly continue. Until no.

Overcrowding in many national parks, especially Sion national park in southern Utah, gets to the point where the visitor experience seriously deteriorates and the time is approaching when, instead of being a place of renewal and inspiration, Zion will become a place people avoid.

There is noise, long lines of cars, a buildup of trash and graffiti, and other forms of vandalism that park wardens and managers just can’t keep up with. People get lost and must be found. Sometimes people fall and die.

There are, however, plans to better welcome the 4 million plus humans who come to Zion National Park every year.

Most of the plan presented by park managers, Kane County, the Bureau of Land Management and owners of private property near the park is on the less visible entrance to the park. It is the entry point for approximately 1 million park visitors each year, but it offers few services or recreation other than a path to the park’s more developed southern entrance and its visitor facilities.

Plans include a new visitor center at the east entrance and a shuttle station, with new hotels and housing to be built nearby. Fully electric shuttles would replace the park’s current fleet of propane buses and could potentially follow a route from Kanab in the east to Springdale in the south.

Some 40 miles of walking and biking trails would be created in and near the east side of the park, providing a much needed alternative to the busy trails elsewhere in the park.

Some crowd control measures may still be needed, including a ticketing system for the ever popular Angel’s Landing hiking trail, which sometimes looks like a New York subway station, except it smells better. But, overall, distributing park visitors as the plan envisions would go a long way in making the park as accessible as we all want and avoid having to reduce the number of visitors with higher or difficult fees. to obtain permits.

Analysts from the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Political Institute calculated the numbers and concluded that the proposed development of the eastern entrance would create hundreds of jobs, bring in millions of dollars, and better serve any visitors who might have thought of going elsewhere next year.

Funding for the $ 15 million visitor center was funded by the state’s Community Impact Board and the first $ 150,000 for the new trail system came from a grant from the Office of Outdoor Recreation of the State. ‘Utah. County officials believe that increased tax revenue from new lodges and housing will pay for further improvements.

It is a model that could be replicated around other crowded national parks in Utah and elsewhere, although it will need to be carefully managed so that, as much as possible, human improvements in national parks do not leave them behind. not look at it as anything other than national parks.

If more money is needed, the Utah Legislature and Congress should be prepared to invest. Both levels of government should stop fighting over who rightfully owns the property and stop threatening legal action, including President Joe Biden’s recent restoration of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Utah’s elected leaders will never sue or intimidate Congress into relinquishing the nation’s claim to national parks, national recreation areas, national forests, and national monuments. But if we show that we care about these lands, we could shame all those other senators and representatives by making them see that all of this lands deserve more attention and support than an indifferent absentee landlord could provide.

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