Utahns, visitors exultant as gates of Zion reopen

Posted at 7:16 PM, Oct 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-11 21:16:33-04

SPRINGDALE – There was quite a bit of celebrating in Springdale Friday as Zion National Park is open, 10 days after the federal government shutdown locked the gates.

A deal between the state of Utah and the Department of the Interior has allowed hikers back on the trails.

Park managers had less than a day to get the park operational. Park spokesperson Aly Baltrus said they’d started making phone calls as soon as they got the word.

“Essentially in just a couple of hours,” Baltrus said.  “We have been doing restrooms and getting those opened. We called in our staff, who have been literally waiting by the phone, eager to work.”

The reopening happened in pieces. Crews first began removing barricades from Highway 9 pullouts, then one of the campgrounds, then the visitor’s center. Visitors slowly started flocking to the canyon, many in disbelief.

“There have been so many highs and lows,” said Amanda Edwards, who is visiting the park from England. “Where we thought, will it happen? Won’t it happen? Are we going to be able to do something? And every time we’ve been disappointed, so a bit hesitant this morning to think: Is it actually true?”

Tourists said they’re grateful to the local guides and residents for helping them find alternative spots to recreate, but the park is what they came to see, so they’re glad the state was able to make it happen.

“I’m very happy with what Utah did,” said tourist Juri Vondrak. “And I hope someone else, like Arizona, should do it as well, so we can see the Grand Canyon.”

“The only thing I wished I could do that I couldn’t do was give the governor a kiss,” said Ellen Shyne, who is visiting from Minnesota.

Beyond the tourists, the employees at the park are grateful for the reopening, as it means they can get back to work and doing what they love.

“We’re about service,” Baltrus said. “We’re about saying ‘hello.’ We’re about welcoming people in. This is new. Totally out of the box, I mean, we have to commend everybody for working together and figuring out a way that made sense.”

Some areas of the park are still off-limits, the Watchman Campground remains closed until rangers can figure out how to access reservations in the national database. The scenic road up to the Zion lodge was closed to vehicles, but tourists were allowed to walk or ride bikes.  Rangers said they wanted to check trails to make sure trails were safe after the 10-day closure.

The park promises full accessibility Saturday morning.