Freeing the Virgin River’s Native Fish

Funded: $64,500

Over the last 13 million years, the North Fork of the Virgin River has sculpted awe-inspiring red sandstone towers above the Zion Narrows. A decade ago, the North Fork, along with other segments of the Virgin, were recognized for their outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing state and were designated a part of the national Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Individuals and families from around the world visit each year, developing personal and lasting connections as they walk the Virgin River.

While park guests enjoy these remarkable natural structures, the North Fork’s native fish, some found nowhere else, swim up and down the waterway. These small fish have adapted to the complex environment of the North Fork and can survive floods and long periods of silty, turbid water. Their navigation is halted by four man-made dams inside the park boundary which serve as significant barriers for the passage of fish.

This project takes the first step toward freeing the Virgin River’s fish by investigating the ecological impact of the four dams within the park boundary. Engineering-level design alternatives will be developed to maintain the integrity and function of the dams while also allowing free passage for the fish. This gift will provide the needed research and concept design for the park to apply for federal funds to retrofit restrictive structures.