Phase one of the reopening of Zion National Park was implemented on Wednesday with gates opening to visitors for the first time in over a month.
“It’s historic, it’s groundbreaking but it’s a huge, huge and my hat is off to them with the way they’ve approached this and the way that we’ve reached this day,” said Lyman Hafen, Executive Director of the Zion Forever Project which has worked closely with park staff and local communities during the planned reopening. “We’re very excited, at the same time we’re very sensitive about it.”
With the shuttle bus service not operating for the foreseeable future, the capacity of the park is based on parking availability.
“We spent several weeks looking at all the main functions here in the park, the different things that the visitors do and wanted to make sure I think first and foremost that we were protecting the public health,” said Jeff Axel, spokesperson for Zion National Park. “We can get up to 30,000 people in a normal year on Memorial Day weekend and that’s just not going to work this year with the federal and state guidelines.”
Certain areas within the park are closed including the visitor center and Zion Lodge. Some trails are closed due to the aspect of touching handrails or chains, specifically on the final section of Angels Landing and the entire Canyon Overlook Trail. The Narrows are closed due to the flash flood concern and high water levels. Despite the closure warnings and signage, park staff have already experienced park visitors entering closed areas.
“We’re in the shadow of Angels Landing right now,” said Daniel Fagergen, Chief Ranger at Zion National Park on Wednesday. “We’ve had people violating it since we’ve been open this morning unfortunately and that’s people going beyond the barrier that’s in place up there and so if we can catch them, they’ll probably get citations for doing that.”
With the hopes that visitors practice social distancing and treat the park appropriately, park staff plans to reopen more locations within the next few weeks.
“If we find that the crowds are getting out of hand, if people are not observing social distancing we may have to pull back on some of the things we made available and that was part of our initial plan so we keep everyone healthy,” said Axel. Surprised by the available parking spaces on Wednesday, staff anticipate morning times to be the busiest, especially during the upcoming weekends.
“Shift your times around maybe come at a later time of day, maybe come mid-week, avoid the weekends or maybe push your vacation off maybe late summer early fall,” recommends Fagergen. Staff also want visitors to think ahead when planning their trip by planning backup recreation options in the area in the event of Zion being at full capacity.
For the time being, most park staff members will be wearing masks, specifically when near others. The park is not enforcing masks to be worn by visitors however, appropriate social distancing is required as well as respecting all closures.
To learn more about the status of facilities, trails and the reopening phases click here
Local businesses are thankful to have the park gates back open. The Springdale hotel and hospitality scene was dormant for nearly two months.
“There really has just been no one around, we’ve especially been a ghost town with the park closed,” said Nate Wells, General Manager of the Zion Canyon Village which includes the Cable Mountain Lodge. “We rely on our visitors to support the businesses, we’re a small community and we need the visitors to stay alive, we have had some great support from the locals here.” Wells is also the President of the Zion Canyon Visitors Bureau. “These last two months are very important for continuing us out through the rest of the season and we’re missing out on those financial resources that keep our employees working.”