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:


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.”



Deseret News


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


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


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:

New projects promote alternative fuels, reduced pollution

Visitors board a shuttle at Zion National Park on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.
Visitors board a shuttle at Zion National Park on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. EVZion aims to develop and deploy a small-scale EV shuttle system through the east side of Zion National Park to increase connectivity across southern Utah. 
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Got fuel? Alternative fuel?

New efforts announced Monday in conjunction with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s declaration of November as “Alternative Fuels Awareness Month,” aim to put Utah and other Western states on the map when it comes to easily accessible alternative fuel corridors in rural areas, especially national parks.

As a highlight, Utah Clean Cities said it is committing to advancing two Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies programs through cooperative agreements named EVZion Electric Shuttle and CORWest.

EVZion aims to develop and deploy a small-scale EV shuttle system through the east side of Zion National Park to increase connectivity across southern Utah.

“This piece with Kanab was exciting to get involved in and be able to pilot this project with the emerging EV shuttles,” said Tammie Bostick, executive director of Utah Clean Cities. Kanab and the parks are busier than they have ever been, she added, with nine out of every 10 vehicles coming from California just earlier this year.

“People are not going to be disappointed, they are going to be excited,” Bostick said, to get out of their cars and enjoy a “theater experience” to take in the wonders of Zion National Park with an EV shuttle.

She said that 6.8 million people used the park’s propane shuttle system over a year’s time, so to build on that will be advantageous.

The CORWest project seeks to connect eight western regional states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — by developing electric corridors in rural, gateway communities across the intermountain region that will make it possible to drive an electric vehicle across rural and scenic roadway corridors in the West.

CORWest will use this infrastructure to boost motorist accessibility and is the first effort of its kind in the country to join multiple states with a commitment to put these fueling stations every 50 miles.

“It is unique in all the nation that we have all these states saying let’s make this happen, let’s work together, let’s combine this vision moving forward so we have range confidence.”

The Monday event also highlighted the success made so far in Utah: 1,594 stations across Utah that offer alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas, renewable natural gas, liquified natural gas, autogas and electric along the most heavily travelled corridors of I-15, I-80 and I-70.

Fourteen States combine efforts to “DRIVE Electric USA”

A partnership of U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Programs recently won over $1.8 million in DOE funding to significantly advance electric vehicle (EV) adoption in their states.

“Last spring, the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition (ETCF) and Clean Fuels Ohio (CFO) joined forces to develop the idea that pulling together as many states as we could into one project that would share ideas and develop well-thought-out plans for EV education and deployment could be one of our best steps toward accelerating EV adoption in our states,” ETCF Executive Director and Project PI Jonathan Overly said.

The overarching goal of DRIVE will be to substantially increase electric vehicle (EV) adoption rates across consumer and fleet markets in 14 states. The project – originally titled “DRIVE (Developing Replicable, Innovative Variants for Engagement) for EVs in the USA” – will be based on a model designed to attack several interrelated market barriers utilizing proven best practices.

“While we will deploy a unified framework and plan, the project will allow flexibility in how each state team will implement the plan and utilize the best practices based on their state’s culture, governance, policy environment, economic conditions, market state-of-play, and stakeholder strengths,” CFO Executive Director Sam Spofforth said.

In addition to accelerating EV adoption, the project will advance state-of-the-art, innovative approaches to reduce interrelated EV market barriers and plans to create a “Replication Playbook” that other states can utilize to further their own initiatives. The activities, outputs and outcomes in the project are built on seven “Priority Areas” of focused work:

  1. Create and strengthen branded, statewide “Drive Electric” programs in each state, and build capacity into those programs through funded time
  2. Educate consumers by developing multiple, local EV “chapters” in all states
  3. Directly engage and educate all of our utilities and regulators
  4. Advance infrastructure in all states via statewide corridor, regional and community EVSE planning, including a focus on limited-income communities
  5. Educate state and local government officials about EV policy best practices
  6. Engage dealerships & OEMS to develop state-based, preferred EV dealer programs including light-duty and medium/heavy-duty OEMs
  7. Significantly increase fleet EV adoption across many types of fleets and sizes of vehicles

The team’s goals are anchored in creating or strengthening state-based EV initiatives in the following 14 states (after each state, the Clean Cities Program that is leading that state’s efforts are listed):

  1. Alabama – Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition
  2. Colorado – Denver Metro Clean Cities Coalition
  3. Florida – Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition
  4. Georgia – Clean Cities-Georgia
  5. Kansas – Kansas City Regional Clean Cities
  6. Louisiana – Louisiana Clean Fuels
  7. Missouri – St. Louis Clean Cities
  8. North Carolina – Triangle Clean Cities
  9. Ohio – Clean Fuels Ohio
  10. Pennsylvania – Eastern Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Transportation
  11. Tennessee – East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition
  12. Utah – Utah Clean Cities
  13. Virginia – Virginia Clean Cities
  14. Wisconsin – Wisconsin Clean Cities

“In each of these states, there are varying levels of already established EV outreach collaboration,” Doug Kettles, Director of the Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition said. “In Florida, we have one of the older programs in ‘Drive Electric Florida’ which was established in 2014. However, our objective is to grow and evolve our program while we partner in helping all the states fully realize a true ‘statewide’ program, and turn them into powerful motors for EV engagement.”

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are examples of other states where partnerships have already been developed towards these ends, but they will also adapt and mature their programs while collaboratively attacking the most prevalent barriers that exist today.

Clean Cities partners will regularly convene with a 30-member Project Advisory Committee (PAC) of thought leaders and industry stakeholders to share best practices and learnings gained through implementation. The project PAC includes the following entities:

After winning the award, the partnership decided to shorten the project name to “DRIVE Electric USA” for multiple reasons but in part because it simply and cleanly reinforces what the project aims to achieve through the exemplary behavior of 14 mostly fly-over states where EV adoption efforts are needed to help drive the American economy toward a cleaner and more fair transportation system.

How I visited all of Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks in a single weekend

The Spectrum National Parks Reporter K. Sophie Will on her "Mighty Five in a Weekend" trip at Arches National Park on September 18, 2020.

The Spectrum National Parks reporter K. Sophie Will on her “Mighty Five in a Weekend” at Arches National Park on September 18, 2020. K. Sophie Will

I had 72 hours, five parks to get to and one camera.

As I left my house at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 18, my editor’s words that some parts of this trip may be “too ambitious” echoed in my head.

But I didn’t have time to worry if I could get it all done. I had driving to do.

In mid-September, I undertook a reporting trip that required me to drive nearly 1,000 miles over southern Utah to see all five of Utah’s National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.


I was on the hunt for lived experience. I went to see for myself what some of my sources could only attempt to describe over the phone. I went to talk to people who have come from all over the country, and the world, to adventure in the desert. I went to better understand the places I talk and think about every day, and ultimately become more of a local.

What did I find?

Unbridled Americana, wide-open sanctuaries, an exhaustive child-like wonder, heartbreaking loss, adrenaline-filled adventure, deafening silence, hidden treasure and a human community I thought was lost due to the societal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hiked, stared over scenic pullouts, talked to rangers and visitors alike, ate at local restaurants, got a stamp for every park in my National Park Passport and tore through a 64 gigabyte SD card and three camera batteries.

Also, there was the altitude sickness and a flat tire, but that’s beside the point.

So how did I do it all?

Well, it all started in Moab, Utah.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah has been forced to shut their gates due to crowding over capacity.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah has been forced to shut their gates to crowding over capacity. K. Sophie Will

I left St. George at basically dawn and pulled into Moab in the early afternoon on a Friday, flashed my national parks interagency annual pass at the gate, and sat in the Visitor Center parking lot at Arches National Park setting up my gear.

After spending some time shopping for irresistible trinkets, I met with Chief Ranger Melissa Hulls and some of her colleagues.

Arches was been inundated with heavy traffic this September, forcing rangers to close the main gates for hours nearly every day.

“I think people have gotten stir crazy. Just with everything going on with COVID. It’s great that they want to get outdoors. It’s great that they want to experience their national parks and maybe come to areas they wouldn’t have otherwise. So it’s great to see the people here, it’s just a challenge sometimes to manage the number of people that come here,” Hulls said.

After our chat on camera, I explored the park myself to see what all the hype was about. And boy, is it well deserved.

Cruising the switchback and up through Balancing Rock, The Windows, The Garden of Eden and ultimately the famous Delicate Arch, I found myself pulling over every two minutes to take a photo.

I hiked the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail to see the iconic arch on everybody’s license plate in person.

Except, I forgot about altitude. Moab has an elevation solidly 2,000 feet higher than St. George. And as I had spent the past four years of my life living at sea level, I felt like I was on a boat in the middle of the desert.

I found a kinship of other travelers on the trail, masked and unmasked, who were also struggling with the altitude. Chuckling, we cheered each other on and sighed at those who literally ran up the trail without breaking a sweat.

I forgot how nice it is to laugh and talk with strangers.

The Spectrum National Parks Reporter K. Sophie Will on her "Mighty Five in a Weekend" trip at Arches National Park on September 18, 2020.

The Spectrum National Parks reporter K. Sophie Will on her “Mighty Five in a Weekend” at Arches National Park on September 18, 2020. K. Sophie Will

After my hike, I drove to my hotel in Moab, while fighting through construction and stand-still traffic, and spent the evening walking around downtown.

While waiting for my takeout from local favorite Pasta Jay’s, I was struck by just how many people were outside walking the town. It actually felt like pre-COVID times, except half of the population was wearing masks, and half not. Still, it was a bustling “city” humming with chatter, laughter, and the pitter-patter of tourist feet.

I bolted out of the door at 7 a.m. the next morning, hoping caffeine would save me as I went to go wait for Arches to close. Ironic, no?

Sitting in the Windows parking lot, people waved, asked how I was what I was up to with my tripod and glaring orange press pass. I watched families uproariously laugh as they reunited to enjoy the outdoors together. Again, I forgot what it was like to be in public.

I moseyed on over to Delicate Arch when the flashing red and blue lights shot through me and I realized it was just Hulls, closing the Delicate Arch parking lot and waving people on.

“The park closed 15 minutes ago,” she said.

Frenzied, I raced back to the entrance and finished up my story, talking to the rangers turning people away, and the disappointed travelers trying to figure out what to do instead.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is often where people are diverted to when Arches, the other nearby National Park, is too full.

Canyonlands National Park is often where people are diverted to when Arches, the other nearby National Park, is too full. K. Sophie Will

When Arches closes, rangers tend to send travelers to Canyonlands National Park, just a 30-minute drive away. So, I went too.

Something completely overlooked when speaking of the Mighty Five is how absolutely stunning the scenery between the parks are. In some ways, I enjoyed my time driving in awe just as much if not more than my time in the parks.

Except, even there we waited for nearly 45 minutes to get into the park as there’s only one shack as an “entrance gate” to Canyonlands. Arches receives more than double Canyonland’s visitation annually, so some facilities do not have to be as grand.

Once inside, rangers at the visitor’s center guided me to the most popular places in the park, but specifically the northern Island in the Sky region.

After a drive-through and a few pictures, and though I was sad I couldn’t spend more time in Canyonlands, It was 2 p.m. and I had to get to Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020. K. Sophie Will

Unreal rock formations, looming cliffs and wide-open fields dot the way to Capitol Reef National Park. I’m telling you, driving between these parks is half of the experience.

As I pulled into the north-western entrance, I was again met with less pomp and circumstance than I am used to at Arches and Zion. But, I loved the intimacy and accessibility in Capitol Reef.

I felt so close to the rock walls, and the mid-day sun shining on the colorful contrast of red rock and green brush made me feel like I was in a painting.

A small log cabin caught my eye, it seemed so out of place and yet fitting as it snuggly nestled near the sharp cliff.

With my face and lens placed literally on the glass, I peered into the Fruita Schoolhouse. Strategically placed desks, pencils, blackboard and even a teacher’s apple transported into a different time when early Latter-day Saint settlers and their descendants tried to tackle the harsh desert terrain.

Fruita, a small "ghost town" of an early Latter-day settlement is nestled inside Capitol Reef National Park.

Fruita, a small “ghost town” of an early Latter-day settlement is nestled inside Capitol Reef National Park. K. Sophie Will

The orchards nearby made me forget I was in a desert, however, with the invitation to pick your own fruit announced on signs everywhere, though there was no fruit to pick at the time.

I ended my time in the lovely Capitol Reef with a stop at the visitor’s center and was immediately reminded of how Superintendant Sue Fritzke said the parking lots are a main point of congestion in the park.

Built in the ’60s, the parking lots in Capitol Reef are in desperate need of an update with limited space and virtually no space for oversized vehicles, like RVs.

The visitor center itself is getting an upgrade, and while the main building is closed, a makeshift store with a ranger desk sits in the already limited parking lot in a trailer.

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020. K. Sophie Will

A ranger stood outside the trailer, monitoring how many people he let inside due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Where I had been slowly forgetting how our society has changed during the pandemic the past day and a half, this was a stark reminder of how life is different now.

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park faces visitor center renovations and crowded parking lots in 2020. K. Sophie Will

In Torrey, the gateway town to Capitol Reef, I found solace in good old small-town America. Downhome restaurants, big backyards, small grocery stores and few gas stations greeted me and took me back to my roots.

However, Torrey thrives on tourist funds and as such is filled with trinket shops, hotels and attractions.

But I was there to talk about the mail.

Torrey, Utah does not have a post office after the United States Postal Service closed the only location, now abandoned, for the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park.

Torrey, Utah does not have a post office after the United States Postal Service closed the only location, now abandoned, for the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park. K. Sophie Will

Torrey does not have a post office after it closed due to debt on New Year’s Eve. Because of this, residents have to drive to Bicknell, eight miles away, to retrieve and send mail.

I spent some time at the abandoned post office and the Bicknell post office, contemplating how this happened and what impacts it had.

Then, to Bryce before sundown.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic. K. Sophie Will

The road from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park is paved with the soul of Utah, and America.

Winding roads, hearty small towns, ranches and open ranges dotted with livestock, more trucks than I could count and truly incredible scenery will meet you as you drive the two hours between the parks.

I was nearly in tears by the scenery on Johns Valley Road. I swear, if I could have closed my eyes for just a moment I would be in an old western, riding my horse into the sunset.

The "ghost town" of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand.

The “ghost town” of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-Day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand. K. Sophie Will

As kitschy as that may be, I genuinely felt connected to my roots and was truly proud to be a born and raised Utahn. The greenery, rock walls and steep mountains filled me with pride and wonder.

I landed back on Earth in Bryce, where I bounced along the bumpiest road I’ve ever driven on to stare at the Milky Way with Dark Ranger Telescope Tours just a few miles outside the park.

People come for a tour of the night sky by the "Dark Rangers" outside Bryce Canyon National Park.

People come for a tour of the night sky by the “Dark Rangers” outside Bryce Canyon National Park. K. Sophie Will

There, I swaddled myself in a jacket and blanket for the first time in months as I got a crick in my neck staring at the sky. I had forgotten what it was like to be cold.

As Bryce Canyon is one of the International Dark Sky Parks certified in Utah, I had to get a chance to see the Milky Way while I still could. Dark Sky certifications are constantly threatened by light pollution, and I did not want to be counted as one of the many millennials who have never seen the galaxy.

After four hours of nerdy, stargazing fun, I crawled back to my hotel in the nearby gateway town of Tropic and realized that with all that driving and all the fun I had, I forgot to eat dinner.

In the morning I scoped out local attractions such as the famous Ruby’s Inn and Restaurant, a city unto itself in Bryce.

Early morning among the pines was slow going and peaceful as I stood, jaw wide open, and looked at the canyons full of hoodoos and unbelievable rock formations.

That was, until I met the chaos at Sunset Point.

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic. K. Sophie Will

I went around the parking lot four times with no luck in finding a space. Rangers monitoring the lot shrugged and said this was normal for 9 a.m. on a Sunday. I should have taken the shuttle.

After scoping out the shuttle’s COVID-guidelines, some time at the visitor’s center with an open museum portion and breakfast at a good old western restaurant, I headed to scope out a ghost town.

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shuttles at Bryce Canyon National Park have continued to run despite the COVID-19 pandemic. K. Sophie Will

Being a professional snoop is part of my job, honestly. And as I pulled up to Widtsoe just 20 minutes outside the park, I was met with a scene frozen in time and just had to get inside.

Caved in floorboards, falling ceilings, rusting cans in the yard and holes from gunshots in the walls greeted me as I wandered into Widtsoe. It was deafeningly silent with just the shutter of my camera placing me back in the present.

That, and the obviously new cabins looming over the area.

The "ghost town" of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand.

The “ghost town” of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-Day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand. K. Sophie Will

As I was snooping, a car pulled up to me and I thought I was for sure caught in the action.

But it was a sweet couple from Gunnison, who came to see if they could find any remnants of the husband’s parents, who were born there at the beginning of the twentieth century.

They were looking for a log cabin, long since gone, and any indication of roots. We laughed, held a genuine connection and again I remembered why I do this job. To learn of and tell stories. It is a privilege.

The "ghost town" of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand.

The “ghost town” of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-Day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand. K. Sophie Will

I walked over to the church or schoolhouse building, rotting and in decay.

Graffiti was etched on the wood inside as the whistle of the wind through the holes in the walls sent a chill down my spine. I sang a hymn, echoing off what walls were left, said a prayer and left the town, looking back in reverence. It was Sunday, after all.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park's historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel has been a source of traffic congestion for years.

Zion National Park’s historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel has been a source of traffic congestion for years. K. Sophie Will

The road to the east side of Zion is more familiar to me than the journey I’d had the past few days.

Turning out of Orderville and onto the rollercoaster road into Zion’s east end, I thought it a pity that so many of Zion’s visitors come only through the south entrance in Springdale.

From Mt. Carmel to the Checkerboard Mesa, there are wide open spaces and isolation as you’ve never experienced. The Mesa itself looks almost alien, and I forget how incredibly unique they are while overshadowed by many of the attractions more central to the park.

And then, the tunnel.

Zion National Park's historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel has been a source of traffic congestion for years.

Zion National Park’s historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel has been a source of traffic congestion for years. K. Sophie Will

Mt. Carmel Tunnel is a chokepoint for all traffic trying to get from one side of the park to the other, with only one direction of traffic allowed at a time when any oversized vehicle requires an escort.

While my wait was only 15 minutes, in my past reporting, officials, advocates and visitors alike express deep dissatisfaction and frustration with the traffic through the tunnel.

Utah Clean Cities is aiming to put an electric shuttle through the tunnel, however, hoping to relieve some of the congestion. The project, as well as bigger plans to expand a shuttle system to St. George and beyond, is still in the beginning stages, but I am monitoring its progress as it goes.

MORE ON THE SHUTTLE PROJECT: A St. George-to-Zion shuttle could be key to unlocking Southern Utah public transportation

As I wrapped up my trip and chugged home, flopping exhaustedly on my bed at 4 p.m., I was reminded how lucky we are to live in a state with such extraordinary outdoor spaces.

The "ghost town" of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand.

The “ghost town” of Widtsoe, Utah was an early Latter-Day Saint settlement and abandoned buildings still stand. K. Sophie Will

The people also seeking an escape from this tumultuous world like me were one of the best parts of the trip. I remembered that even though our life looks different now after COVID, some things are still the same.

Nature is the same. Human wonder and need for adventure are enduring. Human connection still exists. And most importantly, the human need to be united with the land will never go away.

In three days, I had traveled to alien planets, ghost towns, the stars, the center of the Earth, and ultimately, the center of me.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks Reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News through the Report for America initiative by The GroundTruth Project. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email her at kswill@thespectrum.com.

CNG fuels Utah’s disposal services, saves on fuel costs

ACE Recycling and Disposal is one of the largest independent waste haulers in the western United States and has become known as a leader in cutting-edge green technologies.

In 2008, the company adopted alternative fuels and now has a fleet of 194 vehicles, 99 of which are heavy-duty, compressing natural gas (CNG) refuse haulers. In addition to implementing the use of alternative fuels, ACE has improved recycling programs along the Wasatch Front, adopted geothermal energy systems and powers its West Valley Headquarters with solar panels.


ACE completed the grant applications process independently but leveraged Utah Clean Cities Coalition (UCCC) to push legislation to cut company costs and reduce emissions through the adoption of CNGs. To achieve this, UCCC and the state of Utah provided ACE with tax grants for a combined total of $35,000 in tax credits per truck. Over 50% of the company’s fleet is now composed of CNG trucks, and they are continuing to integrate more CNG vehicles as they expand.

ACE started with a small CNG fleet that fueled at a public gas station. The largest initial struggles came with tank sizing and higher public fuelling costs.

Two years later, ACE constructed its first private fueling station which greatly reduced fuelling costs. However, there was not a set OEM standard for how to implement CNG, whereas today there are standardized protocols. This was an obstacle until 2013 when there was a huge break in the technology barrier with the development of high-quality fuel systems. This was a huge milestone in ACE’s success, leading to even greater fuel savings and a highly feasible project.

“Our business is based upon cleaning up our environment—the methods we choose to achieve this need to align with our purpose,” said Matt Stalsberg, ACE owner and general manager. “Our commitment to clean fuel technologies reduces our environmental impact, provides the best value for our communities, and tells Utah we believe in responsible business. Today, CNG is a clean fuel that trucking companies in our region can choose, and we’re excited to see what the future of clean energy holds.”


When asked about the cost savings, Stalsberg stated that it was a “no brainer” when you look at the net savings with the increased investment. The trucks cost more, but the return on investment (ROI) is three to four years for an eight-year truck.

The addition of their own station saved ACE substantially more when they started to buy gas in bulk. There are also significant tax credit savings to compressing your own gas with your own station.


One of the greatest obstacles with adopting CNG reported by Stalsberg was the learning curve of alternative fuel technology and common misconceptions about the fuel.

Training was conducted by a shop member with a certification (CNG-FSI) to work on CNG trucks which allowed for a better understanding of the technology. Following the training, the ACE team noted that it made them pioneers in safely utilizing CNG.

About 50 firefighters from across Utah met at the ACE headquarters for training on the effective implementation of CNG technology.

ACE even created its own CNG mechanical safety video to address some of the common misconceptions around this alternative fuel.

Implementing CNG technology also meant retro-fitting the mechanics’ workshop due to the different shop standards for CNG. Overall, the retro-fitting took approximately two weeks to complete and cost around $100,000.

ACE also noted that the changes and safety protocols were ultra-conservative and created a safer shop overall for greater peace of mind for their employees.

Since the first private CNG fuelling station was constructed at the company headquarters in 2010, two more private stations in Clearfield and West Jordan have been added.


In summary, adopting CNG allowed ACE to achieve the projected economic savings by reducing fuel costs by 50%. After utilizing private stations in the first few years, after CNG integration, ACE was able to install three of its own facilities with CNG fueling capabilities.

This resulted in a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions- nearly 2,440 tons over a five year period — the equivalent to reducing the amount of emissions from driving an average passenger vehicle 5.3 million miles. Additionally, a 2.5 million gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE) reduction has been achieved which is equivalent to reducing the amount of emissions from 4,690 passenger vehicles driven over a one year period. Aside from decreasing emissions and cutting capital costs, ACE has seen added benefits with customers.

“We are now viewed as more than just a garbage hauler, from customers to our peers, we hear about how great our fleet is,” said Mercedes Anto, ACE sustainability director.

Moving forward, ACE’s goal is to have a fleet composed of 90% CNG trucks. The company has also expressed interest in the adoption of electric refuse haulers as the technology is refined.

Their advice to any fleet manager who is looking to adopt CNG is that the varying national price may make it more feasible in certain locations. When it is feasible, it not only leads to significant cost savings but, as the ACE team has experienced, this leadership increases company leadership in green technology and alternative fuels.

Utah Clean Cities celebrates Idle Free Awareness Month

Join Utah Clean Cities Coalition & Utah Clean Air partners for the 13th Annual Governor’s Declaration Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free Month and Season 2020-21!

This virtual event took place on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

Click on the above image to view Utah Clean Cities’ webinar.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. David Christensen, UCC Board of Trustees Chair, ASPIRE
  • Tammie Bostick, Executive Director, Utah Clean Cities
  • Scott Baird, Executive Director, Department of Environmental Quality
  • Thom Carter, Executive Director, UCAIR, Utah Clean Air Partnership
  • Jack Hedge, Executive Director, Utah Inland Port Authority
  • Dr. Kerry Kelly, Assistant Professor, University of Utah