Washington County takes over upkeep of Sheep Bridge, Smithsonian Butte roads

ST. GEORGE — County officials voted to designate roads connecting Rockville and Virgin to state Route 59 as county roads in order to better provide for their improvement and upkeep due to increased use by locals and visitors.

In this file photo, the Rockville Bridge spans the east fork of the Virgin River was built for the National Park Service in 1924 to provide a link between Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Rockville, Utah | Photo provided by Loren Webb, St. George News

Each road, known as the Sheep Bridge Road out of Virgin and the Smithsonian Butte Road out of Rockville, is considered a viable connection between state Route 9 and SR-59. However before they can see more popular use, both roads need to be improved. One road in particular needs to be made more car friendly.

“We have identified two roads on the east side of the county that see a significant amount of travel on them that would be better roads if they were maintained better,” Ron Whitehead, the Washington County public works director, told the Washington County Commission during a meeting Tuesday.

The resolutions voted on by the commission concerning the roads will allow the county to take over the upgrade and maintenance of the roads from Rockville and Virgin. In cases where the county doesn’t take over ownership and upkeep of the road completely, it has agreements in place with municipalities allowing the county to still maintain the roadway.

The Smithsonian Butte Road – which connects Rockville by way of 250 North and on up to the historic Rockville Bridge over the Virgin River at its north end – runs south-southwest until turning into the Bench Road and then Main Street in Apple Valley and ending at SR-59.

“Part of that road we are now going to start maintaining has been known as “Crybaby Hill,’” Commissioner Victor Iverson said, “for the reason that people, unfortunately, take vehicles up there that are not four-wheel drive and you may have seen them on ‘Mike’s Off Road Recovery’ or other shows where he’s towing people out of there.”

Much of the roadway consists of rock and dirt that becomes muddy and hard to navigate following the rain. However, it also is a destination for campers and provides access to many mountain biking trails throughout the area.

A scene from an episode of “Matt’s Off Road Recovery” of a vehicle being towed off the Crybaby Hill section of the Smithsonian Butte Road, Washington County, Utah, June 2019 | Photo courtesy of Matt’s Off Road Recovery / YouTube, St. George News

In the past, the road was used as a connector between SR-9 and SR-59 for people leaving Zion National Park for the Grand Canyon more than it is now.

The county currently has an agreement with Apple Valley to maintain the section of road that runs through that municipality. As for Rockville, the county is working with the town to create a bypass road, complete with a new bridge, “that will better suit the town and the visitors,” Iverson said.

Sheep Bridge Road, which also connects SR-9 and SR-59 west of Rockville, starts in Virgin at its northern end and terminates at the Hurricane Cliffs Trailhead at its southern end.

This road is considered to currently be in better shape than the other as the county already has begun to maintain a part of it. It also is flatter, which Commissioner Adam Snow said will serve tour buses better.

People will be able to use the Sheep Bridge Road to cut between SR-9 and SR-59 much faster than having to travel all the way into LaVerkin and Hurricane to make the switch.

The better maintenance and eventual enhancement of the roads from dirt and rock to possibly paved gravel roads will also aid in traffic continuity when a crash occurs on either SR-9 or SR-59 close to LaVerkin or Hurricane that blocks traffic, Iverson said.

A shot of Sheep Bridge Road near, Virgin, Utah, circa 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society, St. George News

“Both of these roads have large ramifications from the economic development side regarding Zion and the dispersal of visitor experience away from the park,” Snow said as he made reference to an overall plan in the county to help local, state and federal agencies find other places in Washington County for visitors to camp and visit outside of Zion National Park.

The general idea is that dispersing the “visitor experience away from the park” will help reduce the overcrowding the national park has seen in recent years.

Other business

St. George Musical Theater donation

The County Commission approved a $2 million donation in tourism funds to the city of St. George for a dedicated venue for the St. George Musical Theater. While the theater has routinely performed at the St. George Opera House, it hasn’t had a permanent place to call home for many years.

Last year, the commission passed a resolution supporting the theater finding a more permanent venue.

County bee inspector report

The commission also received a report from Blaine Nay, the county’s bee inspector. Nay, who is also Iron County’s bee inspector, said there were two primary threats to the county’s bee population – the parasitic varroa destructor mites that can kill off beehives, and beekeepers not knowing about the parasites or how to detect and defend against them.

Blaine said he plans to hold informational seminars for Washington and Iron County beekeepers regarding the parasite sometime early next year.

Public comment: Election demands and changes to public comment policy requested

The Washington County Commission hears public comment regarding citizen displeasure of election procedures and public comment policy, St. George, Utah, Doc. 6, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Public comment was held at the conclusion of the meeting and involved a handful of individuals continuing to share their displeasure and concern over how the County Commission handled the House District 72 primary election and subsequent general election results.

As the commission did not satisfy demands for a hand recount of the votes and other lingering issues that continued to be raised by particular citizens calling for more transparency and integrity in local elections, they were accused of “being close to enemies of the Constitution” by one of the resident-commenters Tuesday.

Others asked the commissioners to modify the public comment policy it had recently adopted. Current policy requires people wishing to comment to register online beforehand and limits the number of people who can sign up per meeting to 10. Each commenter is given two minutes to speak, though the commissioners have tended to relax this rule thus far.

Commenters told the commission that requiring registration to comment and limiting comments to 10 people only was a violation of their constitutional right to free speech.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!