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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