Open space conservation makes good business sense, preserves local flavor in Washington County

Virgin River Gorge

Written by Louise Excell

It’s hard to miss the influx of visitors coming this year to see the majestic landscapes of Zion and  Bryce National Parks, Snow Canyon State Park, and southwestern Utah’s amazing national monuments and recreation areas. And there has been much discussion of late about the impact of increasing visitation and the development tourism requires on the fragile ecosystems in and around these venues.

The Virgin River Land Preservation Association has worked with willing landowners and communities for 22 years to preserve Washington County’s open space, which attracts visitors and sustains its ranching and farming character. We strive to protect important open space critical to local tourism-related businesses and the local people who ranch and farm private land adjacent to Zion National Park. 

Our land trust has launched a new initiative called the Greater Zion Conservation Fund (GZCF) to collect voluntary contributions from visitors to help maintain important open space surrounding Zion National Park. Local businesses will now have an opportunity to help by collecting a 1% for Open Space voluntary contribution from their customers.   

The concept of 1% is remarkably simple. Participating lodges and motels, retail shops, tour companies, and restaurants ask their patrons for a voluntary donation amounting to one percent of their total bill before taxes. Typically, the one percent would appear as a line-item on the client’s check, but there are other possibilities available, depending on the business. The participating business then passes the one percent collections on to GZCF on a regular schedule determined by agreement between the business and the land trust.

Virgin River Land pledges to use the collected funds to acquire conservation easements or to purchase critical private open space to protect important areas within and adjacent to Zion. Only 10 percent will go to fund administration. Any conservation easements or property acquired will be held in trust so future generations can continue to enjoy the unique experience of visiting Zion National Park and its surrounding communities.

In exchange for their participation, businesses will be celebrated by the land trust in publications, press releases, websites and social media. 

The 1% for Open Space program is a proven method of funding the protection of open space in other areas.  For example, the Gunnison Valley, Colorado, conservation program has raised well over $1.7 million dollars for the preservation of open space in and around Crested Butte.

Greater Zion Conservation FundConservation Is Good Business

Participation in the GZCF is more than preserving open space; it is good business. Tourists to national park venues are increasingly looking for a “green” experience, and when they see businesses with a commitment to sustainability and the environment, they are likely to patronize them.

Tourism is Washington County’s single largest economic driver, producing a multitude of professional, service, and amenity-related employment opportunities. The tourism industry is inextricably linked to visitors’ utilization and enjoyment of the natural resources, so it is important to conserve and sustain those elements that make our area unique and desirable.

Likewise, recreational and associated uses provide substantial revenues to Washington County, and tax revenues are generated through the outdoor recreation industry and associated lodging, dining, and retail sales. VRL’s conservation lands support many popular recreational activities like canyoneering, back-county hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and bicycling.

Ranching and agricultural activities have been important land uses in Washington County for more than a century, but development pressures continue to reduce the working ranches and farms every year. In an age when agricultural production expenses outstrip total receipts, conservation easements can provide options for individual ranchers and farmers to remain viable. 

But the benefit of working agricultural lands is more than just balancing a budget. VRL has helped ranchers and farmers to preserve over 2,750 acres of rangeland and dry land farms in the Greater Zion area that preserve wildlife habitat and rural lifestyle and contribute to creating a better local flavor and visitor experience.

More information about participation in the GZCF will be available soon on our Facebook page and website at Interested parties can contact a board member who will be happy to answer questions or to meet with you to discuss in person participation in the Fund. Virgin River Land Preservation Association is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, so contributions are tax-deductible.


Louise Excell, Board Member

Virgin River Land Preservation Association

P.O. Box  266

Springdale, Utah 84767

[email protected]