Over 4 Million “Found Their Park” in Zion Last Year

By Lyman Hafen, Executive Director

Just about every record in the book was broken in Zion National Park in 2016. For the first time ever, the park’s total visitation topped 4 million (4,317,028, to be exact), and for the first time, retail sales through ZNHA bookstores topped $5 million ($5,581,464, to be exact.) Those weren’t just broken records, they were shattered. Visitation was up 15 percent over the previous record of 3,662,220 in 2015. And sales were up 34 percent over the previous record of $4,148,713 in 2015.

It’s obvious the National Park Centennial played a key role in those amazing figures. You would also have to say that the marketing efforts by the State of Utah, highlighting the state’s “Mighty Five” national parks, have also been ultra-successful. Indeed, visitors from across the nation and around the world “found their park,” in Zion last year. Depending on who you talk to, it is a blessing or a curse. And that’s where ZNHA comes in, as we continue to work year-round to give aid to the park and enhance the visitor experience here, and provide the margin of excellence that makes those millions of visits meaningful and memorable.

The hard reality we’re faced with is the fact that Zion National Park is not well-suited to handle so many visitors, and yet, through the cooperative efforts of park management, the gateway communities, and strong partners like ZNHA, we’re finding ways to make a visit to Zion as wonderful as it promoted to be. In the meantime, park planners are well into the process of developing a “Visitor Use Management Plan” that will address the concerns of large numbers and propose ways to resolve the challenges we’re faced with. We will share more about that process in coming months, along with exciting news about how ZNHA will be re-creating itself to help ensure Zion’s future.

A highlight of ZNHA’s park support in 2016, was the wide and deep reach of our Youth Education Initiative. Your support of ZNHA translated into our ability to fund a number of youth programs which directly impacted the lives of over 46,600 young people. Programs in the initiative included: park ranger visits to 4th, 5th and 6th grade classrooms throughout the Zion corridor, field trips to the park for area students, life-changing overnight trips to the park for inner-city Las Vegas, Nevada youth (the Concrete to Canyons program), youth programs in the Zion Nature Center, and Zion’s award winning Junior Ranger Program.

Last year’s Zion Plein Air Art Invitational was also a resounding success. Twenty-four nationally prominent plein air artists were invited to spend the week of November 7-13, in the park painting in various locations accessible to the general public. The artists were selected based on their abilities as artists, but also on their willingness and facility to engage park visitors and interact with them. The park hosted approximately 12,900 more visitors to the park during the 2016 event, than it did during the same week in 2015. A large portion of those visitors were engaged with the event through art demonstrations, lectures, art exhibits and sales, a paint-out, an art auction, and incidental contact with working in the canyon.

Four evening lectures during the week were each attended by an average of 60 people. The lectures highlighted the history of art as it relates to the creation of the National Park Service and more specifically the role art played in the creation of Zion National Park. Each artist presented a one-hour painting demonstration at a specified time during the week on the patio of the Zion Human History Museum. Average attendance at each of the 24 demonstrations was over 70.

The event provided opportunities for the full spectrum of park visitors to have a meaningful experience in the park. From the casual visitor who had no previous interest in art and learned to see the place in a new light through the eyes of the artists, to the serious art connoisseurs who spent thousands of dollars for art created during the week.

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We randomly polled 302 attendees at the activities and learned that 45 percent were from Utah (with 19 percent local residents), 50 percent were from outside Utah (representing nearly every state across the country), and 5 percent were from outside the US. Of the total, 61 percent came specifically for the plein air event, while 39 percent happened to be visiting the park.

The most important element of the plein air event is to engage the public and help them gain a new perspective on Zion through original art. The educational and inspirational components were a huge success as attested by comments such as: “A lovely enhancement to my usual hiking and sightseeing in a national park.  What an inspiration!” And: “As a non-painter I was fascinated to watch each painting take shape, as each artist interpreted the depth and light of beautiful Zion Canyon.”

It’s also a fundraiser for the Zion National Park Foundation, and as such, we engaged the art enthusiast public by inviting them to the opening gala on Friday night, where we converted the Museum Auditorium into an art gallery with more than 200 fresh new paintings on exhibit. Proceeds from the event came to ZNHA to help fund the park’s Youth Initiative and ongoing art programs in the park.

No other single event focuses the efforts of the ZNHA, park management and staff, the concessionaire, and the local community in such a meaningful and effective way. One of the original objectives was to help expand the shoulder season in Zion. Due to the success of the event, park management has extended the traditional season for the park’s shuttle transportation system. Thanks to Plein Air, November is no longer the beginning of the shoulder season. It is now an extension of the park’s main season.

Plein air had a profound impact on visitors: “This is an awesome event not only for artists, but for anyone who loves beauty.” And it highlighted the ways that private, non-profit and public entities can partner effectively for the good of Zion National Park.



INTRODUCING MARK PREISS – Pioneering a New Era for Zion’s Official Nonprofit Partner

Mark Preiss has joined the management team of Zion Natural History Association as director of the Zion National Park Foundation, the development arm of ZNHA. He brings many years of practice and success in nonprofit, public-private partnership, with particular experience in building philanthropic support for some of America’s most beloved public lands. His most recent assignment was as president of the Glacier Conservancy in Glacier National Park, were he pioneered the merger of the park’s friends group and its traditional cooperating association.

“We are most fortunate to have Mark Preiss join us here in Zion at such a crucial juncture,” said Lyman Hafen, ZNHA’s executive director. “In the short time Mark has been here he’s already placed us on an exciting trajectory in our new charge as the official fundraising partner for the park. For decades we’ve supported the park through our publishing and retailing programs, and now, under Mark’s guidance, we are poised to break into the world of fundraising in a monumental way.”

In fact, a large part of Mark’s initial duties have been, and will continue to be, leading the effort to rethink, recreate, rebrand, and reintroduce ZNHA as a completely new entity later this spring and early summer. He sees his move to southern Utah through the eyes of a pioneer who has come to open up new possibilities and to make a difference for a place he truly loves. “My wife, Kathryn, and our two boys, Jack, 11, and Finn, 9, are proud to follow in the deep tradition of pioneers coming to Utah to be part of a community that wants to make a difference, locally, and internationally through our work with Zion National Park.   It is a privilege to be a part of Zion National Park’s rich heritage, extending back a hundred years, working to preserve its integrity for generations of pioneers and visitors yet to come.”

Originally from Minnesota, Mark has called Utah home before, having served as the associate literature coordinator for the Utah Arts Council, helping to manage the annual Writing Competition, and working with rural communities across the state featuring writers’ workshops, readings, and other special events celebrating Utah’s writing tradition. He also served as a consultant to Sundance, helping to establish and improve programs and marketing strategies.

Prior to his work at Glacier, he was manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, one of the most non-traditional units of the National Park Service, where he facilitated community and partner engagement essential to park preservation. During his tenure there, he established an historic preservation field school, a grants program for owners of historic properties and farmsteads listed on the National Register, managed agricultural easements on 1850’s Donation Land Claim farms, and facilitated a county/town collaborative design review program.

As founding president of the Glacier Conservancy he navigated the successful merger of the park’s non-profit partners into one strong and viable organization, established a best practice partnership model, and increased grant funding to the park by 48 percent over three years.

In November of 2016, Mark accepted the offer to come to Zion and play a pioneering role in establishing a new era for the park’s official nonprofit partner.

“I look forward to our launch of a new initiative,” he said. “It will fully leverage the programs we curate on behalf of Zion National Park, including the park stores, the Zion Canyon Field Institute, and the Zion National Park Foundation, into an integrated brand working hand in hand with the park to provide innovative solutions to the greatest challenges confronting Zion, and to provide full capacity for Zion to serve as a national and international partnership model in persevering our most important and sacred places, while accommodating change.”