ST. GEORGE — Zion National Park set an all-time visitation record in June, according to park officials, shattering the previous record.
The park is also still assessing damage caused by the June 29 flood and dealing with shuttle employees resigning because of verbal abuse from visitors about the mask requirements on the park’s shuttles.
Speaking before the Springdale Town Council via Zoom on Wednesday, Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said approximately 670,000 people visited the park in June, surpassing the 629,000 who visited in July 2019.
“We far surpassed our record,” Bradybaugh said.
Parks across the National Park Service are reporting a large jump in visitation with most COVID-19 restrictions being lifted. Arches National Park in Moab now regularly closes access because of too many visitors on some weekend.
Zion has set a monthly record in nine of the last 10 months. In May, the park had approximately 612,000 visitors.
Recovery from flood continues
The Watchman Trail and a part of the overflow parking area from the Springdale side of the park remain out of commission after they were destroyed in the June 29 flood.
The closure for the trail appears to be a long-term one, as Bradybaugh said the park is considering a rerouting of the trail when the parts destroyed by the flood are rebuilt.
“Watchman Trail took a pretty direct hit. We hope to have that open again but looking to potential rerouting that will help with precipitation in the future,” Bradybaugh told the council, adding that because of the drought rain is welcome – just not that much.
“We’d like to see more rain. Just not with such intensity”
Portions of four of Zion’s 45 hard trails are currently closed.
Along with Watchman, Hidden Canyon, the Weeping Rock Trail and the observation point via the East Rim Trail from Weeping Rock are closed long-term because of rock falls.
This week, Bradybaugh said state geologists did an assessment of the remaining trails affected by the flood, the results of which are still pending. Under consideration are modifications of washes that are usually dry.
Also needing repair is a portion of the overflow lot mainly used by recreational vehicles, with floodwaters seemingly crumbling asphalt like a jackhammer. Bradybaugh said it is actually the most damaged area of the park.
“A quarter of the overflow parking area was damaged,” Bradybaugh said. “We have the overflow parking lot available. It’s just a little bit smaller inside until we get it repaired.”
Also in need of repair is the far-left gate in the park entry from Springdale, which remains closed. One place repaired quickly was inside the visitor center, which sustained some floodwaters leaking in that was cleaned up quickly.
Shuttle mask outrage
While face mask requirements because of COVID-19 have become a thing of the past in most of Southern Utah, they are still required on the Zion Canyon Shuttle and the Springdale Shuttle that takes people to the Zion Visitor Center.
Bradybaugh said the shuttle’s contractor – Park Transportation Inc. – has seen employees resign because of what he said was abuse from visitors opposed to wearing masks.
“The contractor had five people quit over verbal abuse they have taken over people wearing masks,” Bradybaugh said. “It seems unnecessary for that issue to develop.”
While mask requirements have been lifted in the state, schools and most localities and stares nationwide, federal park regulations supersede at the park. And even while the Centers for Disease Control no longer recommends masking for people who have been fully vaccinated, the national park system still has a mask requirement on park transportation.
In the case of Zion, since the visitor shuttles are the only way to take the park’s scenic route in the busy months until November, masks must be worn throughout the ride. For those without them, the park is still providing blue disposable masks.
“Like it or not, that is the federal regulation for transit. It also applies to airplanes,” Bradybaugh said, adding that local resorts may not be doing enough to let their guests know of the requirement once they enter the park. “We could really use some help with that with our businesses in town, particularly lodging making visitors aware.”
Bradybaugh said the park is monitoring “daily” if the federal requirement changes, and noted they didn’t have forewarning when National Parks officials in Washington D.C., lifted shuttle capacity requirements on May 28, ending the need for a paid-ticket system.
“They dropped the bomb on us before Memorial Day as far as transit requirements,” Bradybaugh said.
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