Mayor Stan Smith of Springdale held the first “brown bag lunch” at the town gazebo on Monday, Sept. 14, to “take your questions and let you express your concerns.” Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh was also in attendance to back Smith up where Zion Park questions were raised. One of the top concerns of Springdale residents was the issue of Zion National Park overcrowding. For the first seven months of 2015, Zion visitation levels were up 17 percent from 2014, which was already a record-breaking year.
Springdale resident Paul Mailloux started the discussion with the question, “How [can] society support a population with a sustainable environment and not depend on growth? Take a look at what has happened here. [The Utah Department of Transportation] got a problem. It became our problem. What’s the answer? Widen the road.”
Smith responded that the road in question won’t uniformly be widened in 2016 into a two lane road through Springdale. He said that the project will likely be a “huge mess” but that projects like a bike path, new curb and gutter, and improvements in the road base will make the road through Springdale more functional.
Marcel Rodriguez brought the focus back to the high Zion National Park overcrowding problem by noting that he had worked for the park for 25 years and that both Springdale and Zion National Park are “going to Hell in a handbasket because of the crowds.”
“I’d like to know exactly what the park and the town intend to do about this,” Rodriguez said. “If we are intending to widen the roads and provide more parking, more shuttles, more parking in the park, that won’t do. It won’t even begin to do.”
Smith said that he brings up the overcrowding issue in meetings all the time; however, he said that it wasn’t just a Springdale issue or a Zion National Park issue.
“It’s a southern Utah issue,” Smith said. “It’s a national park issue.”
Smith said that a personal “hot button” was admission-free weekends at the busiest times of the year. Smith said these compound the Zion National Park overcrowding problem but that he has been told that these events are a mandate from Congress.
Superintendent Bradybaugh said that a central component of “use planning” for the park is to decide on the actual capacity of the park. He said that the overcrowding problem is complicated because there are a number of ways to look at park capacity. It could be based on the maximum number for safety. It could also be based on the maximum that resources in the park can handle, such as seats on the shuttle. Although there are 68 seats on a shuttle bus, Bradybaugh said that the shuttle busses frequently run with well over 100 people. He said that on some occasions, the line for the shuttle bus into the park started just inside the river entrance. Whatever measure is used, Bradybaugh said that capacity had been exceeded several times during this season.
Several people asked what could be done. Smith suggested that a system of reservations seemed to him to be an ideal solution.
“Just like a hotel,” Smith said. “Why can’t you get your park pass online?”
Smith and Bradybaugh said that the most essential step in creating solutions to the problems of the park is to build support for a solution by telling their representatives in Congress and the Utah State Legislature what they want. Bradybaugh said that the representatives are responsible to other constituents outside of the Springdale area as well.