Our national parks are busier than ever. As we work to continue making national parks accessible to everyone who wants to visit them, the strain of increased visitation takes its toll on park infrastructure and natural ecosystems. That is especially true at one of the nation’s most visited parks, Zion National Park, where visitors face long lines and overtaxed park resources. The solution is in an unexpected spot – not in the park at all!
The National Park Foundation (NPF), Zion National Park Forever Project and other local park partner organizations have been working with the park on an innovative solution: the East Zion Initiative, which will conserve thousands of acres through conservation easements, as well as build a new visitor center and trails – all on private lands adjacent to the park boundary.
Thanks to a $250,000 grant made possible through joint funding from NPF and the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, the Zion Forever Project was successful in acquiring a 37.5-acre conservation easement on the park’s eastern border, adjoining the park entrance. The purchase, part of a larger conservation initiative, removes development rights for private builders on the eastern side of Zion National Park and helps to conserve an important viewshed and extend habitat protections, providing critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl and migration corridors for mule deer and desert bighorn sheep.
Visitors will also benefit from increased recreational access and new uses of the land. The eastern gateway will extend visitor access beyond the traditional gates of the park, taking pressure off Zion Canyon caused by high visitor volume and traffic congestion. The land will eventually be home to a new visitor center and will increase recreational access through the creation of 70 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails accessible a short distance from the park’s eastern entrance.
The extensive new mountain bike trail system is also funded with help from the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation and a $240,000 grant from NPF. Cyclists will find 24.5 additional miles of trails – using the future visitor center as home base.
The existing and future conservation easements and the visitor center, trails, and wildlife protections will all work together to provide a world-class visitor experience for the benefit of all.