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New eastside Zion entrance development may break ground this year

SALT LAKE CITY — In 2019, more visitors drove, walked, and rode shuttles on the 27 miles of road in Zion National Park than on the 251 miles of road in Yellowstone.

That’s 4.5 million visitors in a narrow canyon with one road in and out, making Zion the most popular and the most crowded park in Utah.

And it’s not just limited road space.

Zion has one major visitor center, one lodge in the park, and a long string of businesses in the canyon-constrained corridor of Springdale at the Park’s main entrance.

Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain thinks he has a way to spread out the visitors and the wealth that comes from their visits: a big new visitor center, trail system, and transportation network at the park’s east entrance, where wide open privately-owned land spread out on top of the plateau as cars approach the park boundary.

“We’re getting to the point where we hope we can start breaking ground later this year,” Chamberlain told FOX 13 in an in-depth interview. (Watch below)

Chamberlain says the Zion Mountain Ranch is donating 18 acres to the county where they will locate a $15 million visitor center. The money to build comes from an already-arranged loan from the Community Impact Board.

He also says they have support from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Utah Clean Cities. That last group poised to help them create a new transportation authority to oversee a system of electric shuttles running from Kanab into the park from the east.

As part of the project, they’ve committed to making East Zion another center of outdoor opportunities, hopefully alleviating some of the pressure on the few very popular trails in Zion Canyon.

“Kane County will be building about 40 miles of hiking trails, they all originate outside of the park. Two of these will go back into the park. Several of the ones that are there you won’t know if you’re in the park or not because the scenery is identical,” Chamberlain said.

report just published by the Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute found the project likely to add over 450 jobs to the area each year and add almost 30 million dollars to the local economy annually. They also found that an improved eastern entrance would increase economic activity in Washington County, home to Springdale and the crowds in Zion Canyon.

Watch the complete interview with Commissioner Chamberlain here:

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Zion: Nation’s 4th most visited national park delivers big $ to Utah

Zion: Nation’s 4th most visited national park delivers big $ to Utah

 

SALT LAKE CITY — Zion National Park, Utah’s superstar of tourism, draws millions of visitors each year and stands to deliver even more economic success under a scenario with planned improvements to its east entrance.

A new report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah details the financial impact of Zion National Park, which out of 62 national parks in the country ranked No. 4 in visitation.

“Zion National Park is a top driver of Utah’s travel and tourism economy,” said Jennifer Leaver, Gardner Institute senior tourism analyst and lead author of the report.

“In this study, we worked with park managers and stakeholders to project Zion visitation over a 10-year horizon. We considered recent visitation trends, the self-limiting effects of park crowding and the possible impacts of proposed east park developments to help local decision-makers make informed decisions on the future of Zion.”

The report found the proposed developments at the east entrance that include a new visitor center, electric shuttle fleet, hiking trails and lodging have the potential to generate 545 jobs and $36.9 million in gross domestic product each year from 2020 to 2030 in southwestern Utah.

Findings underscore the popularity of Zion and other national parks’ impact on tourism, including:

  • One-third of all Utah national park spending was by visitors to Zion, and over 40% of all visitors to the parks in Utah made a trip to Zion.
  • In 2019, Zion National Park visitors spent a record $253.6 million in Kane and Washington counties, supporting 4,438 jobs, $140.5 million in earnings, $235.3 million in gross domestic product and $42.2 million in state and local tax revenue.
  • Park visitors are one of Utah’s top visitor spending groups, with an estimated $1,133 spent per travel party per stay in 2019, and an estimated annual statewide spending of more than $434 million outside of the park and its surrounding communities.

Increased park visitation has been a “mighty” challenge for Utah’s Mighty Five, straining resources particularly at Arches and Zion national parks.

The institute’s report notes that Zion experienced a 47.5% increase from 2014 to 2019, squeezing in an additional 1.7 million visitors over that five-year period.

Such an increase demonstrates the need to disperse visitors to improve the tourism experience, alleviate the strain on park infrastructure and to avoid breaching visitor capacity.

“Public-private investment in infrastructure, including a new visitor center, electric shuttle system, over 40 miles of new trails and new lodging and retail services, will help with Zion National Park overcrowding and create both good jobs and economic growth across Kane and Washington counties,” said Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain.

Such a private partnership was born in 2017 with the launch of the Zion Natl Park Forever Project, which raises money to boost stewardship of the overworked park and to pay for improvements. The program has been active with a variety of projects.

In the report released Tuesday, authors detail a scenario via planned east entrance developments, including construction of four new hotels featuring 337 rooms that would boost Kane County’s hotel capacity by nearly 30%.

It also calls for construction of a visitor center at the east entrance and four high-end residential developments catering to tourists who could rent the homes for an average of $560 a night the first year.

The report describes ways to reduce congestion and pollution in the park through the purchase and deployment of a fleet of zero-emission electric vehicles. The vehicles would take visitors between Zion National Park’s South Entrance Visitor Center, the proposed East Entrance Visitor Center and the city of Kanab, passing through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.

The park’s current shuttle system only transports visitors up and down Zion Canyon.

If the park stayed on a trajectory of “business as usual” in the coming decade, the report notes that visitation will flatten as the park reaches capacity.

“The authors believe that continued Zion National Park visitation growth without future infrastructure investment risks negatively impacting the park visitor experience to the point of necessary visitor park capacity restrictions and diminished local economic benefits,” the report said. “In addition, the authors feel it is important for Zion National Park managers and east entrance developers to consider emerging local, national and global issues as they develop future park management plans and direct infrastructure investments.”

 

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Deseret News

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The NPS Is Leading the Electric-Vehicle Revolution

In February, park officials announced that Zion National Park would receive a $33 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace its aging, 21-year-old fleet of shuttle buses with 26 electric shuttles and 27 charging stations. The move came just as new Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, was confirmed, and it promises to be one of many monumental efforts to electrify the 645,000-plus government vehicles, an aggressive benchmark set by President Biden to help get the country to net-zero emissions by 2050.

“The federal government owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we’re going to replace with clean electric vehicles made right here in America, by American workers,” said Biden in early 2021.

The vehicles at Zion will be among the first in the National Park Service to get an electric makeover, said Amanda Rowland, Public Information Officer for Zion, in a statement to Outside. “It will be several years until they are operating because of the time it takes to order and build new electric buses and charging stations.”

Not only will the new buses be carbon-efficient (the park estimates a 192 metric ton CO2 reduction annually), they will also benefit wildlife and radically improve the visitor experience, simply by making less noise. “The new buses will be very quiet,” said Rowland. “Right now, you can hear the buses from trails in the park, including Angels Landing. The improvements in soundscapes should be noticeable to park visitors, birds, and other wildlife in Zion Canyon.”


This isn’t the first time the Park Service has been on the cutting edge of implementing green technologies. In 2017, Yosemite became the first U.S. national park to permanently add two zero-emission buses to its shuttles after purchasing the vehicles from the manufacturer Proterra. Nearby, the Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) was awarded $4.3 million in federal funds at the end of 2019 to ramp up their electric vehicle arsenal with the purchase of six new electric coaches. YARTS is a critical transportation provider in the area, offering travel between Merced, Fresno, Mammoth Lakes, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Yosemite Valley.

According to Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, this continued investment in innovative solutions to reduce environmental impacts “is central to the agency’s long-term vision for sustainable management of park operations, including park transportation.”

Glacier National Park is gunning for a green transformation, too. The park’s iconic red buses, originally manufactured between 1936 and 1939, recently underwent a rehabilitation that replaced the old Ford engines with a Ford 6.2L V8 engine assisted by an electric hybrid system to reduce emissions and fuel consumption on the many downhill stretches of Going to the Sun Road. A spokesperson for Glacier told Outside that the new buses were slated to hit the pavement in 2020, but, due to the pandemic, they are now hoping to launch in summer of 2021.

It’s not only large vehicles that are being overhauled at the parks. In 2017, BMW, in partnership with the National Park Foundation, NPS, and the Department of Energy donated 100 electric vehicle charging stations specifically targeted at making the parks and their gateway communities more accessible to plug-in-driving visitors. Notable additions include Everglades, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier. “Electric vehicle drivers can now enjoy a quintessential national park road trip,” said Shafroth. “Not only will drivers benefit, but also the businesses and communities at the doorstep of our treasured parks.” Add in Biden’s plan to have 500,000 charging stations available across the country by 2030, and a climate-friendly road trip suddenly doesn’t sound so niche.

With the consumer market trending electric—California has banned sales of new gasoline cars by 2035, General Motors vowed to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and Ford announced it will sell only battery-powered cars in Europe by 2030—it’s certainly heartening to see U.S. national parks taking a leadership role when it comes to electrifying federal fleets. However, to truly take America into the sustainable future, Biden’s team will need to ensure that renewable energy production, not archaic relics like coal and natural gas, is powering the half-million charging stations he hopes to install.

Still, there’s a lot to cheer about in 2021. Namely that the new Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg, is making big moves at the federal level to combat global warming by lowering emissions, pushing for high-speed railways, and increasing access to EV charging stations for historically underserved groups, like apartment dwellers and those in rural communities. The Department of Transportation is offering $180 million in grants for low- and zero-emissions buses and $889 million in grants to fund transportation projects with an explicit focus on addressing climate change and racial equity.

Or, as “Secretary Pete” put it: “To meet the climate crisis, we must put millions of new electric vehicles on America’s roads. It’s time to build public charging infrastructure powered by clean energy and make it available in all parts of this country.”

Credit: Outside

Author: Emily Pennington

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How the Biden-Harris and Cox-Henderson administrations could impact Utah national parks, monuments

 

On Inauguration Day of the United State’s 46th president, the country was tensely awaiting the ushering in of a new administration, and with it, a new environmental plan.

For what the United Nations have coined as “the last decade to save the planet” or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Biden has unveiled plans to combat climate change and improve conservation efforts.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, inaugurated two weeks ago, has not spoken at length on his policy toward conservation or climate change, but has said he aims to ensure public lands are “managed responsibly and that the interests of all stakeholders are considered fairly,” according to his campaign website.

With Utah in a unique position to receive both a new governor and a new president this month, conservation groups and other advocates have high hopes for the future of the state’s public lands.

Utah’s national parks are set to receive funding from the Great American Outdoors Act passed last summer by the legislature and the Trump administration, though the exact date of fund disbursement is still unknown. These funds will be used for deferred maintenance, and according to advocates, can help the parks attain their sustainability goals.

Cox, in his proposed 2021 budget announced last week, said the visitor center at Cedar Breaks National Monument would move forward with funds from Zion Forever and the National Park Service.

In the budget, Cox proposed $125 million for open space, trails and parks, including $100 million for outdoor recreation, $7.3 million for the LeRay McAllister Critical Lands Conservation Fund and $17.7 million to expand and improve recreation opportunities at Utah’s state parks.

The National Park Service itself has been without a Senate-confirmed director for four years, and advocates are anxious to have the seat filled in a timely manner. The lack of leadership “creat[ed] instability and damage that could take years to reverse,” President of the National Parks Conservation Association Theresa Pierno said in a statement.

 

First Native American woman set to become Secretary of Interior

In terms of leadership, the Biden administration has nominated Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to be the new Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to fill the position pending Senate confirmation.

“We look forward to the swift Senate confirmation of Congresswoman Haaland, and to working with the Biden administration to undo damage and find new opportunities to make our parks stronger, expand them to tell more of our diverse, shared American story and improve access for all,” Pierno said in a statement.

Other groups such as the Conservation Lands Foundation, applauded the experience Haaland brings to the department and looks forward to years of not only land but heritage conservation.

“Congresswoman Deb Haaland brings a lived experience like no other to lead the Department of the Interior in ways that will harness the power of nature to ameliorate the impacts of climate change, improve access to the Great Outdoors for all Americans, honor the sovereignty of tribal nations, support rural economies, and safeguard wildlife and wild places for future Americans to enjoy,” Executive Director Brian Sybert said.

Tribes, like the Navajo Nation, congratulated the Pueblo of Laguna-enrolled congresswoman on her nomination, looking toward a future of governmental collaboration.

“The consideration, and hopeful confirmation, of Rep. Haaland to this role is a sign of change and hope that tribal nations will be represented well in Washington,” the Speaker Seth Damon of the Navajo Nation Council said in December.

Policy changes, hope for bipartisanism

Advocates like Cory MacNulty, Southwest Region Associate Director of the National Parks Conservation, is looking forward to “shifting from defending the lands to proactively looking at opportunities to work with local communities for long term protection.”

The Trump administration approved more than 100 rollbacks on protective policies and land sales of protected public lands such as Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was cut nearly in half for oil and gas drilling.

“I’m very hopeful the Biden administration, along with prioritizing science, will also restore opportunities for public engagement in federal land,” MacNulty said. “We are looking forward to appointees at the top of the Department of Interior who will prioritize the land over development.”

According to a 2019 study by the National Parks Conservation Association, 96% of all national parks are experiencing significant haze, along with all the side effects.

Tammie Bostick, Executive Director of Utah Clean Cities, said she hoped the new administrations will focus on sustainability goals while collaborating with local communities.

“The future of our National Parks and public lands most certainly will be positively moved toward attainable sustainability goals by the Biden administration across our nation and in our state,” Bostick said.

In regards to Cox, Bostick said, “We expect him to drive increased funding and support for alternative fuels and infrastructure for Utah and our gateway communities near and around our national parks.”

Other issues such as overvisitation, haze, sustainability, and a moratorium on land sales are also on the minds of advocates, who said they hope solutions discussed before the Trump administration will be discussed again.

“There’s a lot of people hopeful we’ll get rapid change, but the list is long,” MacNulty said, noting the association is looking at the “long game.”

Most of all, advocates are urging to remove politics from public lands for the good of the people and the land.

Reported by The Spectrum

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Zion National Park receives $33 million for electric shuttle buses

After years of fighting for funding, Zion National Park is set to receive $33 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace aging shuttles, the park announced on Tuesday. Reported by The Spectrum

The new fleet will consist of 26 battery-electric buses and 27 charging stations and will arrive at Zion within the next few years.

“The existing fleet has served us well for 21 years but has started to deteriorate with age and use,” park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a statement, saying the new buses “will help to further improve the visitor experience.”

 

Funding will consist of money from USDOT’s Nationally Significant Lands and Tribal Program with contributions from the National Park Service, Iron and Washington Counties and the Zion National Park Forever Project.

In 2019, the park applied for the Nationally Significant Lands and Tribal Program grant asking for $35 million but was denied.

For three years, the park was denied funds with little to no explanation as to why.

The current buses are over 20 years old, and well over half all of park entrance fees go to maintaining the system, totaling over $5 million per year, according to the park’s charity, Zion Forever.

After an investigative series by The Spectrum on Zion’s shuttles, park officials said another application was in the works for this fiscal year. In August, the park planned to apply for over $45 million to cover the entire cost of replacement.

The park will continue to work with Utah Clean Cities, which has designed the EV Zion program, as well as the Utah delegation.

“Clean electric buses will better distribute visitors around the park which will improve the visitor experience while simultaneously protecting the park’s unique natural resources.” U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement. “This has been years in the making and I am proud to have worked with local leaders to make this a reality.”

Utah Clean Cities Tammie Bostick “couldn’t be happier” about the announcement.

“The long-overdue monetary infusion for Zion National Park’s shuttle program is woefully overdue and much deserved,” she said. “This is the fleet of the future.”

Zion regularly receives more than 4 million visitors per year, making it the fourth-most visited U.S. National Park. It gets credited for contributing more than $343 million per year to the regional economy.

Zion Forever Director Mark Preiss was happy with the announcement and credited The Spectrum for bringing awareness to the project’s needs.

“Zion was a model 21 years ago, and Zion is again a catalyst for the next generation’s experience,” he said. “It reaffirms that rural vision and the stature that Zion has, nationally and internationally.”

Park officials said the “engineering and service connections” have been completed for the first phase of charging stations, set to be installed this year.

Read the original article here: