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Zion National Park / Town of Springdale Shuttle System

Published in Success Stories

Brief Summary of the Challenge or Opportunity: In the late 1990’s increasing parking and vehicle congestion in Zion National Park led to resource impacts and diminished the visitor’s experience. The challenge was to develop a transportation system that would accommodate increasing visitation to the Park, preserve natural resources, and enhance the visitor experience.

The Challenge (s) and/or Opportunities

Pertinent history

In the late 1990’s visitation to Zion National Park was approaching 2.5 million visitors per year and was steadily increasing. Increasing visitation and traffic congestion along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive was creating impacts on natural resources. Noise and vehicle emissions were driving wildlife away from the area. Parking congestion at trailheads was also causing resource impacts as visitors would park in unauthorized areas, often on natural resources. Both traffic and parking congestion were negatively impacting the visitor experience in the Park.

The Town of Springdale is immediately adjacent to the south entrance to Zion National Park. Most of the Park’s visitors pass through the Town on their way to the Park. In 1992 the Town revised its general plan and zoning ordinance in an attempt to make development in Springdale more compatible and seamless with the character of Zion National Park. The Town’s goal was to blend the boundaries between the Park and the Town such that a visitor to the area would have a seamless transition from the Town to the Park. The method by which visitors travelled through the Town and entered the Park was a key component of this strategy.

Long-term goal/vision for the situation

To develop a transportation system that achieves the following goals:

  • Reduce impacts to natural resources in the Park.
  • Enhance the visitor experience to the Park.
  • Accommodate increasing visitation to the Park.
  • Promote the relationship between Springdale and Zion National Park.

The setting

Zion National Park is divided into two sections: the Zion Canyon section and the Kolob section. The Zion Canyon section is by far the more popular of the two sections and is where most of the Park’s amenities and visitor facilities are located. The eight-mile Scenic Drive in the Zion Canyon section accesses most of the Park’s popular scenic sites and front-country hiking trails. The Town of Springdale is immediately adjacent to the Zion Canyon section of the Park. The Town provides visitor services and amenities to Park visitors. Close collaboration between the Park and the Town is critical for the successful management of both. In particular, effective management of transportation and parking is critical to help the Park fulfill its mission of protecting the landscape for future generations, and to help the Town retain its unique village character and atmosphere.

Key stakeholders and partners

Staff from Zion National Park and the Town of Springdale worked together to identify potential solutions to the transportation issues in the Park. Park Superintendent Jim Falvey and Springdale Mayor Phillip Bimstein provided key leadership through the process and facilitated much of the partnership and communication that made the project a success. The Denver Service Center of the National Park Service provided technical expertise on project alternatives, design and funding. Springdale business owners were key partners by volunteering locations for shuttle stops and offering to accommodate visitor parking.

Key funding sources

Funding for the shuttle system came through congressional appropriations in the Department of Interior Appropriations bills of the late 1990’s. Funding for shuttle stops and physical improvements in Springdale came through Transportation Enhancement funds, the Zion Natural History Association provided matching funds. Ongoing operational costs for the shuttle are derived from Park entrance fees.

Special considerations

Zion National Park wanted fewer cars parking inside the Park. Springdale could accommodate more parking, but only if the shuttle system extended outside of the Park and into Springdale.

Potential roadblocks that contributed to the challenging nature of the situation

In the late 1990’s the idea of a shuttle system was foreign to many Park visitors and Springdale business owners and residents. Skepticism regarding the viability of the shuttle was prevalent among many business owners. Many businesses were opposed to the shuttle because they felt the shuttle system would impact Park visitation and would shift the burden of providing parking from the Park to the Town. Many Park visitors believed their Park experience would be negatively affected, or they would be inconvenienced by the shuttle system.

The Strategy Applied and the Outcome

The approached used and action taken and why

After extensive collaboration, discussion, and planning, the Park and the Town developed a plan for a shuttle system that would transport Park visitors from Springdale to the Park. Visitors would park their vehicles in Springdale and ride the shuttle into the Park. Private vehicles would not be allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Shuttle System would have two loops, one operating in the National Park and one operating in Springdale. Shuttle stops would be strategically located throughout the Town with the cooperation of local business owners.

Other options considered

Other options considered included:

  • Building a larger parking lot at the Visitors’ Center in the Park and only operating one shuttle loop in the Park (no shuttles would operate in Springdale).
  • Building a large parking lot in the Town of Virgin (15 miles from Springdale and the Park entrance) where land was cheaper and more abundant and a super-sized parking facility was feasible. Then having a shuttle take visitors from Virgin to the Park entrance.

The outcome(s) and any additional or ongoing follow up

The Shuttle System has resulted in decreased noise and air pollution in the Park. Parking and traffic congestion are no longer issues at popular trailheads in the Zion Canyon section of the Park. Wildlife has returned in abundance to the Zion Canyon section of the Park. All of this has increased the level of visitor satisfaction. Since the shuttle was instituted (2000) Park visitation has steadily increased.

The Shuttle also provides a means of alternative transportation in the Town of Springdale. Springdale businesses and residents enjoy the transportation options the shuttle provides.

The Town and the Park continue to partner to make the system function more efficiently. Current partnership projects include: finding additional funding sources for shuttle operations, improving way finding signage and messaging for shuttle users, and finding more efficient solutions to increased parking in the Town of Springdale.

What was Learned?

What worked well?

It was important to involve all partners at the beginning of the process. Early collaboration between the Park, the Town, and Springdale businesses led to better planning and implementation of the shuttle system.

What didn’t?

The initial implementation of the Shuttle System was a huge success for the Park, but less so for Springdale. Visitors filled a large new parking lot in the Park and didn’t visit Springdale—resulting in impacts on local businesses. The Park Service reduced the size of the parking area in the Park and began to proactively promote a “Park in Springdale” campaign. Business in Springdale improved dramatically. However, parking congestion in Springdale and congestion at the Park fee station became problems. Planning for ongoing operation was not a large part of the original project. Issues like continuing funding, parking congestion in Springdale, and others now need to be resolved.

What were the key factors that influenced the outcome?

Key leadership from the Superintendent and Mayor were critical to the success of the project. A willingness on the part of the Park, UDOT, the Town, and business owners to try something new and innovative was essential. Creative funding made the whole project a reality.

What role did partners play and were there shifts in perspectives and/or relationships between partners?

Zion National Park: The Park took the lead on the technical aspects of design. The Park was also the original proponent for the project. Throughout the process the Park gained a better understanding of the needs of Springdale residents and businesses and developed more of a desire to partner with the Town.

Town of Springdale: The Town took the responsibility to accommodate parking displaced from the National Park. This was both a boon and a burden. Through the process the Town learned how to better capitalize on increasing Park visitation in a way that did not sacrifice the Town’s village character.

UDOT accepted traffic calming islands and shuttle stops on a state highway, a departure from their standard policies.

What would you do differently if you could replay the situation?

Create a public parking area or areas in Springdale to accommodate parking displaced from the National Park.

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