Changes are on the way as America’s fourth most-visited national park enters its 101st year in action in 2020.
The Zion Forever Project is Zion National Park’s official nonprofit partner. The Project has a whopping 36 projects planned for the park in the coming year. Many of the changes are spurred by the centennial anniversary of the park that will be celebrated this November. The celebrations are doing double duty; not only are they a chance for visitors to join in the excitement, but they are also helping to raise money for improvements to the park.
The centennial celebrations are titled “We the Keepers.” This campaign is meant to inspire visitors to take action to care for the park that we all know and love, to help slow the devastating effect that increasing tourism is having on the natural landscape. In fact, many of the 36 projects proposed by the group are designed to do just that. Keep reading to learn what you can expect to see happening in the park in the coming year.
A Brand New East Entrance
The more than 4.5 million visitors who come to Zion each year almost all enter the park through the main gate. After all, its where the visitor center is, it’s on both shuttle loops, and its currently the only gate with any facilities. But that’s about to change.
In 2020, Zion’s East Gate will start to get a whole new look. A brand new, 7,000 square-foot visitor center will be opening. The center will feature many of the same facilities as the current visitor center, like trail and backcountry information, exhibits, a gift shop, a theater, and restrooms. But the new East Gate visitor center will also be home to museums, food, and more.
The new visitor center won’t debut in 2020, but groundbreaking is expected to take place late in the year, with the center opening in 2021. The hope is that opening a new visitor center will help draw guests away from the main one, alleviating some traffic and crowding in that part of the park.
Miles of New Trails to Open
To coincide with the new East Gate visitor center, the Zion Forever Project is also looking to open more than 11 miles of new trails on the East side of the park. Just like the new East Gate visitor center, these new trails are designed to offer an alternative option to popular trails in the main part of the canyon to reduce crowding during the busy season in the park.
Among the new trails is plans for one called the Big Loop Trail. This 3.8-mile hike will give visitors stunning views of the Virgin River-East Fork canyon from the top of a mesa. Another trail, called the Park Overlook Trail, will be a 2-mile trail designed to be accessible for those with disabilities or young children. Checkerboard Mesa Overlook Trail will be just over 1.5-miles and will take visitors to two desert canyons.
The park will also get a brand new, 4.1-mile mountain bike trail network. This will be the first of its kind in the park. Right now, only the Pa’rus Trail allows bikes. Pa’rus Trail is paved and relatively flat, which isn’t great for those looking to enjoy mountain biking in the park.
Construction on these new trails is set to start this Fall.
Other Changes Coming to Zion
Besides a new network of trails and a shiny new visitors center, there are plenty of other changes coming to Zion next year.
The Zion Search and Rescue Team, or SAR, will get a brand new training facility. Previously, the team would complete training on cliffs and voids within the park. Their new facility will feature two 40-foot climbing and rappelling towers, connected by a 60-foot catwalk. Visitors won’t see the facilities, as they’ll be located in an administrative area. But when disaster strikes, they’ll benefit from better-trained search and rescue personnel.
Zion’s rangers are also getting an upgrade, with new snowmobiles set to replace the aging ones currently used. The park gets several feet of snowfall every winter. Snowmobiles allow park rangers to gain access to parts of the park that would otherwise become inaccessible all winter long.
Another important project is the construction of a new visitor education center at Cedar Breaks National Monument. This may not seem like an improvement to Zion. But the Zion Forever Project is improving the facilities at this nearby monument in the hopes of drawing some visitors away from the national park and alleviating some crowding issues.
Changes Coming to Zion
Keeping up with the growing attendance in Zion National Park is a never-ending project. However, the Zion Forever Project’s 2020 goals are designed to target trouble spots. Hopefully, they will help to lessen the effect that current visitor numbers are having on the park.