A popular hiking trail though Zion National Park remains open to the public thanks to a $1.5 million deal negotiated by the Trust for Public Lands and funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal program that uses offshore oil and gas revenues to preserve and protect public lands.
The 16-mile Zion Narrows Trail passes through two parcels of private property—the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead and Simon Gulch on the park boundary. The Trust established a conservation easement through Chamberlain Ranch in 2013, but in 2018, “no trespassing” signs appeared in Simon Gulch, advertising 880 privately owned acres with “resort potential.” The Park Service stopped issuing hiking permits for Zion Narrows until the situation was resolved.
The threatened sale was a bit of a stunt. The property owner wanted to sell to the federal government, but felt that the appraised value was too low. However, without LWCF there might not have been enough money to make a fair deal.
In 2015, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1), then chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, allowed LWCF to expire because he opposed the purchase of new public lands. In 2016, due to public outcry, Congress voted to re-activate LWCF with a three-year extension; it was permanently reauthorized by the bi-partisan Dingell Act, passed in 2019.
Zion Narrows hiking permits: www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/narrowspermits.htm
This is an excerpt from our February EnviroNews column. View the full article here.