Zion closure from the perspective of a shop employee

The Man shut us down again

“Screw the feds!” a disappointed tourist couple from New York pronounced this morning as they returned their unused rental gear here at the Zion Rock outfitting shop. “No one is allowed to recreate in Zion today,” they said. “The Man shut us down again!”

Zion National Park officially closed this morning and the tourists are royally pissed. The locals are beside themselves and the shop is losing tons of money.

The shop seems to have transformed into a virtual central station of ranting tourists who can’t get information from the park. Even the National Park website is down because of the Federal Government shutdown.

Adventuring outside of Zion proper – spectacular and rewarding

The early morning crowd at the shop dissappeared later on in the morning and it’s been dead ever since. A woman called, bitter and heavy-hearted, asking if there was anything we could do to get her and her son in to Zion. They had just been locked out of Bryce Canyon, and were praying that their Utah National Park trip-of-a-lifetime wouldn’t be totally void of National Parks.

I explained the laundry list of hikes and adventures outside of the park that are just as scenic as those inside Zion proper. The towns of Springdale and Rockville are both virtually in Zion, just not in the federally designated area of Zion. And most locals consider adventuring in the vast “greater Zion” area to be just as spectacular and rewarding as Zion proper, which is usually choked with tourists anyway.

A group of adventurous types from Salt Lake City came in to the shop, contriving ways to complete their narrows hike without getting busted by the park. They all took work off months ago for this trip once they got the permit to do the Narrows. One of them jokingly told me, “with no park employees to stop us, what are they going to do to us if we poach the hike?” We’ve recieved word that the majority of park employees have already left, with a few still on to patrol the area. Although the Salt Lake City group was annoyed at changing plans last second, once we directed them to some of the great canyons outside of Zion proper, their enthusiasm returned and they headed off to Water Canyon, a beautiful slot canyon, on the outskirts of the Park, on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land near Hilldale, Utah.

Considering that the BLM is a federally run organization, we were nervous the government shutdown would close off even our greater-Zion area tours–many of our guided trips are outside of the park on BLM land. Luckily, as of the latest U.S. Department of the Interior press release, “all commercial outfitters are allowed to continue using their BLM land-use permits”. Yay! Our trips will continue to operate. But, if today is any sample of what’s to come, Springdale might be a ghost town.

Camping alternatives for everyone mandated to leave the Park

There’s a mass exodus of tourists, and park workers leaving Zion. The roads are being closed, and those camping have been ordered to leave within 48 hours.

Those inquiring about camping alternatives, are in a tough situation. A lady called from Boston, who had made reservations to camp with her fiance in the park for most of next week. Our usual recommendation, the Coal Pits Wash camping area near Rockville, was closed for camping last year because the park didn’t have enough resources to regulate it. It’s ironic that now even the formal campgrounds in Zion won’t be regulated.

For those looking for camp spots, we recommended heading up to the Eagle Crags area, Kolob Terrace road area, or the Dalton Wash area, as long as visitors stay on BLM land. Later on in the day, we heard many reports that all those areas were packed with bootleg campers. The lady on the phone didn’t want to bootleg camp. She was so ticked that the park had closed the official campgrounds that she mused about making her own campground in the grass in front of The Zion lodge in the middle of Zion Canyon proper.

Driving through the park is a Zoo

Unfortunately for her, the only way to the lodge is a road usually referred to as “The Main Canyon” offically labeled “Zion Canyon Scenic Drive”. The “Main Canyon” road branches off of SR-9 which continues out the other end of Zion. SR-9 will not be closed, but many of our customers are saying that road is a zoo. We’re getting reports that all pullouts and parking lots have been coned off and the Park rangers stationed at both entrances say that it is illegal to pull off the side of the road, and even take pictures. According to one of the shops patrons, this has created a major hazard because many drivers are stopping in the middle of the road, getting out of their cars, and taking pictures. Undoubtedly, This is one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. with views that often overwhelm people to the point that their driving judgement dissolves.

Drivers who have stopped in Springdale are frustrated. The majority of them just want to get out of town. Many of the visitors we’ve talked to are heading to Snow Canyon State Park, as advised by local businesses and park people.

Heads up St. George!

Zion typically receives roughly 350,000 visitors per month through the fall–That’s double the population of the St. George metro area (St. George, Hurricane, Ivins, Washington). As of right now, all those visitors have to vacate the premises immediately.

As you can imagine, the park closure has completely deflated the ordinarily bustling town of Springdale. Visitors are besides themselves but local employees and business owners are getting the worst of it. We’re truly sorry to all our dear friends working for the park who have lost income for the time being. We interact with many park employees here at Zion Rock. These are honorable, humble people who are passionate about what they do.

We’ve had a few park workers come in today. Some of them are considering just calling it quits early, since their seasonal job would end here in a month or so anyway. Others are going to wait it out, and enjoy their days off with some backcountry adventures outside of the park.

Hey, when everything goes to shit, we can always escape into the backcountry. And there’s no way they can keep everyone out of Zion’s extensive backcountry.



Written  by Drew Allred

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