June 19th, 4:05pm
The main road that leads visitors to the most scenic points of Zion National Park are completely closed off to automobiles every summer. Instead, the park offers a shuttle service that operates from the visitor center all the way to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. Here’s how extreme conditions in this park laid a foundation for this radical experiment.
The year is 1997. 2.7 million annual visitors were becoming more than an unpleasant experience, causing incredible resource damage, and blocking maintenance and emergency vehicles from accessing points in the park. The idea of a shuttle was proposed by Don Falvey, Zion superintendent from 1991-2000, and despite much controversy, the park worked with the gateway town of Springdale to implement two separate park and town shuttles in 2000.
Zion may be the only park to require visitors to leave their cars behind. This creates a unique visiting experience - a pedestrian setting that, to us, is reminiscent of an amusement park. Although in the height of the season, you may wait 30-45 minutes in line to board the shuttle from the visitor center, many visitors have come to appreciate this structured experience. As one departs from the visitor center, a pre-recorded audio tour provides insight into the geology, Native American histories, trails, and fauna of the park, and also effectively on the shuttle minimizes chatter on the ride. Perhaps due to the shuttle or the attractions along it, we’ve found that visitorship is concentrated along this road, leaving the east side and Kolob Canyons as quieter attractions of the park.
As all parks across the nation are being “loved to death” by the public, Zion could be a unique trailblazer for visitor management – which we’ll talk more about in an upcoming post about our chat with interpretive ranger, Adrienne Fitzgerald.