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March 01, 2000

ALONG THE WAY: Zion National Park


No matter how many times I visit Zion National Park I'm humbled by its majesty. With sandstone cliffs that loom as high as 4000 feet above you it's a reminder of how small we are in the face of time and nature. It's a worthwhile experience anytime of year. But the month of May is my favorite time to visit Zion. As everywhere in the Southwest it is a time of renewal. The wild flower season is in full swing, and the Virgin river is swollen with snowmelt as it continues along the course of this canyon that it began to carve out so many millions of years ago. But this May the park itself will be going through a kind of rebirth. I recently met with Denny Davies of the National Park Service to get a preview of the new ground breaking shuttle service and a beautifully designed visitor center.

David Bert ... This area really is actually quite large, and you've got paths in all kinds of directions, and beautiful landscaping. You've done quite a job here.

Denny Davies ... When we think about visitors' centers we oftentimes think about four walls and roof. Here we've got 6 acres of ground that it is just devoted to telling the many many stories of Zion. So we have these two-dimensional exhibits, lots of photo panels, but we also have the three-dimensional that we're seeing here. Including probably one of rarest sightings that people have in terms of the mammals that are here in Zion, that is the ring tailed cat. And so this bronze sculpture here helps people understand what this nocturnal creature is, how big he is, and in real feel for the plant and animal life here it Zion .

David Bert ... This is just one of several shaded ramadas here, and this really houses all of your interpretive signage.

Denny Davies ... There's so much to this place. We're trying to tell the story of Zion outdoors so the were not dependent upon the four walls. And what we're trying to do is say what we're seeing here at to the visitors center is just an inkling of what is beyond the road when we begin that travel up into Zion Canyon.

David Bert ... You've made this outdoor experience so attractive that I think people might be tempted to walk on by the visitors center, but that wouldn't be a good idea what it.

Denny Davies ... No it wouldn't, and the reason is that because it inside the front door here we ever rear screen projection system the feature of which is the five most popular front country trails. And we think that when a person spends 2 minutes in front of this visual display what they're going to be able to do is make some decisions regarding how much time they have, how much climbing they want to do, and make some good informed choices about what trail is best for them.

David Bert ... But really the primary reason for relocating and building this is for the new shuttle system right?

Denny Davies ... The shuttle system is going to redefine how visitors will enjoy national parks into the future. Visitors who want to go in the upper Zion Canyon will ride the shuttle bus, or their option would be to have a bicycle, or to be a pedestrian and simply hike along the road. All other traffic will be eliminated from the upper Zion Canyon. Which as you know is the last 6-mi. going up toward the Temple of Sinawawa awhile

David Bert ... Those people who just want to travel on the main road will still be able to use their car. So they want to go to the checkerboard, they'll still be able to drive there?

Denny Davies ... That's correct. And it's really important issue. Some of the concerns that people raised were that we were taking away their ability to enjoy the park. And state Road 9 that runs east-west through Zion is not affected by the transportation system. It's only that last 6 mi. of the Zion scenic Canyon Drive. So if somebody comes in at the Springdale entrance and they want to drive through the tunnels and go out toward Brice Canyon or the North rim that portion of the road is not affected. And people can do that 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

David Bert ... So May 26th really is a very special day?

Denny Davies ... It is a very special day. And if we think back to the purpose of the national park system as was established by the act of Congress in 1916, the purpose of every national park is to preserve and protect the resources, and make those resources enjoyable and available for the traveling public. And here on May the 26th were going to do that. Were dedicating a new visitors center, we're dedicating a transportation system that will ensure that Zion National Park lasts forever. And make this place just as special as it was when it was first established way back to 1909.

With the new visitor's center and a shuttle system to alleviate parking problems May is a great time to visit Zion National Park.

See discussion rules.


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