SALT LAKE CITY — In 2019, more visitors drove, walked, and rode shuttles on the 27 miles of road in Zion National Park than on the 251 miles of road in Yellowstone.
That's 4.5 million visitors in a narrow canyon with one road in and out, making Zion the most popular and the most crowded park in Utah.
And it’s not just limited road space.
Zion has one major visitor center, one lodge in the park, and a long string of businesses in the canyon-constrained corridor of Springdale at the Park's main entrance.
Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain thinks he has a way to spread out the visitors and the wealth that comes from their visits: a big new visitor center, trail system, and transportation network at the park's east entrance, where wide open privately-owned land spread out on top of the plateau as cars approach the park boundary.
"We're getting to the point where we hope we can start breaking ground later this year," Chamberlain told FOX 13 in an in-depth interview. (Watch below)
Chamberlain says the Zion Mountain Ranch is donating 18 acres to the county where they will locate a $15 million visitor center. The money to build comes from an already-arranged loan from the Community Impact Board.
He also says they have support from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Utah Clean Cities. That last group poised to help them create a new transportation authority to oversee a system of electric shuttles running from Kanab into the park from the east.
As part of the project, they've committed to making East Zion another center of outdoor opportunities, hopefully alleviating some of the pressure on the few very popular trails in Zion Canyon.
"Kane County will be building about 40 miles of hiking trails, they all originate outside of the park. Two of these will go back into the park. Several of the ones that are there you won't know if you're in the park or not because the scenery is identical," Chamberlain said.
A report just published by the Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute found the project likely to add over 450 jobs to the area each year and add almost 30 million dollars to the local economy annually. They also found that an improved eastern entrance would increase economic activity in Washington County, home to Springdale and the crowds in Zion Canyon.
Watch the complete interview with Commissioner Chamberlain here: