Zion being ‘loved to death’ by almost 1M new visitors; traffic jam triggers resumed shuttle service

Memorial Day Weekend parking just outside of Zion National Park, Utah, May 23-26, 2014 | Photo Courtesy of Zion National Park, St. George News

ZION NATIONAL PARK – After vehicle traffic backed up and visitors were turned away Monday, Zion National Park has extended its daily shuttle service for another week.

The shuttle shut down for the year on Sunday; however, by Monday at 10 a.m., all 400 legal parking spaces in the park were full and visitors were being turned away, Zion National Park spokesperson Aly Baltrus said in a press statement.

“A number of people who were planning on visiting Zion Canyon had negative experiences with the traffic or had to be turned away altogether,” Baltrus said. “Neither of these are what we want to see.”

Park management met to look at options and, as a result, some limited roadside parking was allowed Tuesday and extra staff was called in to help organize parking. However, that was not enough to alleviate the situation, Baltrus said, and visitors were still being turned away.

To address the problem this season, the shuttle service will resume for another week, and daily service will continue through Nov. 8. The shuttle will also run on weekends through Nov. 22 and on Nov. 26-28 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Riding the shuttle will be mandatory during these times. Visitors can board the shuttle in the usual locations within the park and on the Springdale Town route. A single shuttle bus will run through Springdale starting at the Majestic Lodge at 9 a.m. The last town shuttle will leave the park’s pedestrian entrance at approximately 6:45 p.m.

Loved to death?

Zion’s annual visitation has increased by almost a million people over the past two years, Baltrus said. The park has tried to adapt by starting the shuttle earlier in the year, adding more shuttles to the daily schedule and providing weekend service in November and over the Thanksgiving holiday.

However, the park is still facing a capacity issue at more than a few front country and backcountry locations. Visitors are having difficulty finding parking, both in the park and in Springdale, even when the shuttles are running. Overtaxed parking, traffic congestion and intermingled pedestrians have raised safety concerns along roadways.

Overcrowding is also occurring on some trails at peak times, which is diminishing the extraordinary Zion experience. Park infrastructure, including roads, trails and facilities, are seeing additional wear and tear, which is accelerating maintenance and replacement needs. Damage to park resources, such as social trailing and human waste, has increased dramatically.

“For years we have heard the expression ‘Zion is being loved to death,’” Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said.  “Together with our partners and nearby communities, we must address these problems.”

To address the issues, Zion will begin a planning process in 2016 to help define the park’s capacity in key areas. Over the next two to three years, the park will test a number of management strategies to find the most effective way to promote safe, enjoyable experiences; protect park resources; ease visitor crowding; and manage traffic and parking congestion, Baltrus said.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • DRT October 27, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad. The National Park Service does everything they can do, to encourage people to visit the parks. Then when people visit the parks, they are suddenly aware that there is a bit of a problem here.
    Right hand – left hand? Or just typical government bureaucratic screw-ups?

  • Me October 28, 2015 at 10:14 am

    The NPS does try hard to increase visitation, however some parks like Zion and Yosemite are too popular. The geography of these parks limits the number of places to send visitors, so even though the park looks big, people are concentrated in small areas. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are able to spread visitors out somewhat to reduce the impact.
    I don’t understand how this is the fault of the park service though. The point of promoting National Parks is to broaden people’s horizons, and make them aware there are more than four National Parks to see. Seems like this would benefit the few overcrowded ones.

    • DRT October 28, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Have you ever been to the South Rim, Yosemite or Yellowstone in the summer time? You’d be surprised how congested those “spread visitors” out are.
      I’m not throwing stones at the park service in particular. They are just another bureaucracy of our federal government, where the right hand never knows what the left hand is doing.

  • anybody home October 28, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Blame Utah tourism advertising and the greed for more dollars spent in the state. Let me understand – Utah wants the money but not the people? Blame developers in southern Utah building homes for a lot more full or part-time residents and their out-of-state visitors. Or just live with it. If the parks are not conducive to the crowds they’re getting, limits will have to be enforced with some kind of reservation system. Seems like the NPS just can’t win in Utah. But bravo, NPS, for all you do.

  • Brian October 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I know people will pitch a fit over this, but free market capitalism (not the crony capitalism we have now) has a simple solution for this: raise the rates. Demand is far outweighing supply, so the price goes up. It’s Econ 101. Give locals a discount, since our taxes help pay for the roads getting to the park, local police and fire response for people getting to and from the park, etc, then double the price to get in. If demand is still too high, raise the rates again. Use the increased money wisely and I’ve got no problem with it. It will make other parks more appealing and give increased resources to deal with the increased demand.

    • anybody home October 28, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      I’m not going to pitch a fit, Brian, but I would sure hate to see the parks becoming playgrounds for only those with money. They’re national parks after all and belong to everyone. Free market capitalism is not appropriate for this situation. And you know it.

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