by David DeMille
St. George Spectrum & Daily News
The official non-profit partner of Zion National Park this week released its plans to help the increasingly crowded park and surrounding areas stay healthy long-term.
Zion saw 4.5 million visitors last year, and the park has nearly doubled its annual visitation over the past decade. Officials are considering an online reservation system and other methods to protect the park’s iconic red-rock landscapes.
At the same time, federal funding for the park’s operations have remained mostly stagnant since the park was hit with sequestration cuts in 2011.
With the pressure growing on park managers to find solutions, the Zion National Park Forever Project was formed. The nonprofit is dedicated to broader regional planning and fundraising to carry the plans out. The group has partnered with officials at Zion and the nearby Cedar Breaks and Pipe Spring national monuments, and it has brought together local governments, businesses, conservationists and other stakeholders to work on solutions.
MORE: Zion, other heavily burdened parks could see funding boost from bipartisan bill
“With a growing circle of partners, business and community leaders and park guests, we are building a shared stewardship model for Zion that will inspire the world,” said Mark Preiss, Zion Forever’s director.
Just getting started
The group has helped fund more than two dozen projects in its first year — it raised the funds to help Zion start work to reopen its popular Middle Emerald Pools Trail — but this week it unveiled a broader list of 36 wide-ranging projects and programs.
MORE: Zion reopens one trail damaged by rockfalls; others remain closed
The projects, outlined in a 2019 field guide released Tuesday, cover everything from land acquisition to school field trips, providing a glimpse of some of the myriad ways park officials and other interested parties hope to approach sustainability.
The field guide describes projects and programs inside Zion, Pipe Spring and Cedar Breaks. In addition, many of the initiatives would affect private and public lands that lie outside of the park boundaries.
“The Forever Project provides essential support to our three parks and beyond, helping to conserve and care for these treasured landscapes enjoyed by millions of visitors that come from around the world every year,” Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a written statement. “This level of collaboration is an innovative model for the future of our national parks.”
The wish list
The full field guide is available online at zionpark.org/2019-field-guide. Here is a list of the 36 projects it describes, as well as the funding needed:
1. Conserve the landscape around Zion: Armed with funds and government partnerships, Zion Forever could work with private landowners whose parcels lie just outside the park to create conservation easements and preserve surrounding landscapes. Funding needed: $250,000.
2. High-res mapping: The creation of high resolution 3-D image mapping of the park could make planning easier for park managers and help Search and Rescue personnel respond to emergencies. Funding need: $12,000.
3. New visitor maps: Purchasing user maps that utilize higher-resolution imagery would improve visitor experiences and better enable scientific research within the park. Funding need: $35,000.
4. Plant research: A two-part study of one of Zion’s rarest wildflowers, the fuchsia penstemon, could help researchers study the flower’s DNA and determine whether it constitutes a new species — and whether that discovery could lead to additional discoveries within the park. Funding need: $10,000.
5. Solar Zion: Solar-thermal water heaters at the park’s employee housing could cut water heating costs by 50 percent. Funding needed: $50,000.
6. Turn rock climbers into bat scientists: Zion’s large numbers of rock climbers could help aid research into the park’s bat populations through this program. Funding need: $25,164.
7. Solar at Cedar Breaks: Solar panels atop the Cedar Breaks Ranger Station, which sits at an elevation of 10,300 feet, could generate an estimated $115,713 in energy savings over the system’s lifetime. Funding need: $49,400.
8. Historic building preservation: Zion’s 90-year-old Pine Creek Building would get protection from floods and seasonal weather damage through this project. Funding need: $200,000.
9. Art assessment: “Temples and Towers of the Virgin,” a five-panel, 6-foot by 21-foot mural, was damaged when it was moved from the Zion visitor’s center to its new location at the St. George Regional Airport. This project would assess the damage and preserve it for the future. Funding need: $15,536.
10. Protect aquatic wildlife: A partnership with Utah State University would study the impact of human traffic on Virgin River ecosystems. Funding need: $45,738.
11. Digital storage: Replace paper records and archive historic records into a digital system. Funding need: $21,989.
12. Pipe Spring history: Capture an oral history of the Pipe Spring National Monument area. Funding need: $20,000.
13. Protect Bighorn sheep: An expansion of the existing “Adopt-a-Bighorn” program would develop a monitoring and tracking program to study the species. Funding need: $50,000.
14. Preserving Kaibab’s night skies: Create history recordings of traditional Southern Paiute star stories and legends. Funding need: $20,700.
15. Recreational facilities next door: A development plan to build recreational facilities like camp sites, hiking trails and mountain biking trails on public lands bordering the park. Funding need: 45,000.
16. Maintaining Scout Lookout: Construction of a new toilet facility at the end of the 4-mile Scout Lookout trail. Funding need: $75,000 (An anonymous donor has already contributed $75,000 to the total $150,000 project cost.)
17. Star parties: Education and outreach programs at Cedar Breaks, one of the 60 sites worldwide recognized as an International Dark-Sky Park. Funding need: $35,976.
18. Camp site for park volunteers: Four campsites and a restroom would provide space for volunteers at Cedar Breaks National Monument. Funding need: $30,000.
19. Horse-drawn wagon: Recreate the “Honeymoon Trail,” a carriage ride at Pine Spring. Funding needed: No money needed, but planners need a draft horse, tack and a wagon.
20. All-abilities access: Educational learning displays and a podcast would use new techniques to help visitors with disabilities and special needs to enjoy the Pa’rus Trail. Funding needed: $33,094.
21. Period furniture: New furniture at the Winsor Castle ranch house at Pipe Spring. Funding needed: $44,700.
22. East entrance: A new entrance station, parking and other facilities at Zion’s east entrance, where an estimated 1 million visitors passed through last year. Funding need: $250,000.
23. Replacing Zion’s shuttle fleet: Local funds could be used to qualify Zion for federal grants that would pay to start replacing the park’s aging shuttle buses. Funding need: $150,000.
24. Bicycle connectivity: Construction of a bike path to connect Springdale’s existing bike lanes with the Pa’rus Trail inside Zion. Funding need: $75,000. (Another $75,000 in grant money has already been secured.)
25. Replacement of visitor center at Cedar Breaks: Increased visitation is overwhelming the monument’s 650-square-foot visitor center, a log cabin built 82 years ago. A new center is needed, although the cost hasn’t been determined yet.
26. Reopening Middle Emerald Pools Trail: This $890,000 project has already been funded with Zion Forever’s help. Landslides forced the popular trail to close in 2010, and similar damage hit the Lower Pools in 2016. This funding will go toward reopening both trails.
27. Reach out to urban youth: An existing program, Concrete to Canyons, brings youth living in Las Vegas and other areas to visit Zion for the first time. More funding would allow for the program to expand. Funding need: $104,800.
28. High-school interns: A new intern position would allow Concrete to Canyons students to come back to the park as staff members. Funding need: $35,897.
29. Paiute Tribal Youth Camp: The four-day Kwiyumuntsi Tribal Youth Camp would teach youths to learn both traditional values and current land management practices. Funding needed: $15,000.
30. Junior Ranger program: More funding is needed to keep up with growing numbers of youth visitors and interest in the Junior Ranger Program. Funding need: $53,400.
31. Springdale Elementary: Students at Springdale Elementary School could visit park rangers inside Zion for hands-on experiential learning. Funding need: $12,000.
32. Student art exhibit: Zion-inspired student artwork would be displayed in an exhibit room at the park’s Human History Museum. Funding need: $20,000.
33. Public lands career pipeline: Twenty students would get internship opportunities at local parks and with agencies that manage park-adjacent lands. Funding need: $168,500.
34. Local public school visits: Park rangers would visit local schools, especially those designated Title I, and share information on nearby parks. Funding need: $90,400.
35. Park field trips: Fifth-grade students at area Title I schools could take a bus ride to visit local parks. Funding need: $82,400.
36. Live broadcasts: To reach students who can’t visit the park or live elsewhere, lessons would be broadcast via a live distance learning program. Funding need: $51,580.
Follow David DeMille on Twitter, @SpectrumDeMille.