SPRINGDALE – One of two scheduled community “open house” meetings was held last night in Springdale, to introduce a proposed management plan concerning the Virgin River.
Thunder echoed outside the Canyon Community Center on Wednesday evening in Springdale as Zion Park’s Fred Armstrong introduced the team from Zion Park and the Bureau of Land Management for a public meeting about a new Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan. Armstrong asked the group not to run outside even though they may have forgotten what rain looks like.
The goal of the meeting was to inform the public about the conclusions of a study that started when 163 miles of the Virgin River and its tributaries was designated as Utah’s first “Wild and Scenic River” in 2009, and to get comments from the public about the plan. When a river receives this classification, the law requires a management plan to protect the river.
The study identified three plans including one that was described as the “preferred alternative.”
The first alternative was labeled “No Action” and the plan actually states that, “this alternative would not be in compliance” with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act so very little time was spent in the meeting on this alternative.
The second alternative included the goal of restoring natural river processes even at the expense of recreational activities. Little time was spent discussing this alternative either.
The entire plan is attached under resources at the close of this report; it includes these first two alternatives, for those interested in seeing what they would actually involve.
Most of the prepared presentation last night concerned the preferred alternative, which basically includes upgraded monitoring of the Virgin River system and some additional improvements, such as a completely new trail from the Temple of Sinawava (the entrance to the Narrows) to Zion Lodge.
A concern that the “gabions” (gravel filled wire cages that line the Virgin River inside Zion National Park for flood control) were killing the signature cottonwoods in the canyon was answered by the presenters, who said that it was simply too complex a question to be considered in this plan and would have to be deferred to another project.
Most persons in the audience were long-time Zion Canyon residents. As questions popped up, it became clear that many owned land in the area and were mainly interested in what changes might be in store for their property.
Tracy Atkins, Project Manager from the Park Service Denver field office, said, by way of explanation, that although the law did provide for additional protection of rivers already under government control, private lands were unlikely to be impacted. The plan makes this clear:
Landowners are often concerned about which lands would be included within a wild and scenic river, in part due to a fear of government land acquisition and regulation. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does permit fee acquisition of up to an average of 100 acres per mile and easement acquisition on any land within the boundary from willing landowners. However, the federal government cannot condemn private lands within designated wild and scenic river corridors that have more than 50 percent federal ownership, which is the case for all designated segments within the Virgin River corridor. Furthermore, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not provide the federal administering agency the authority to regulate nonfederal lands.
Because private lands are completely exempt from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, private properties such as the Trees Ranch which is adjacent to the completely protected wilderness area in the East Fork of the Virgin River are not impacted at all.
The current plan calls for the plan to be complete and submitted for approval to the Regional Director of the National Park Service and the Utah State director of the Bureau of Land Management. Comments about the plan will be accepted through September 9. Comments can be made in writing or online, as provided below.
Public input resources
See the full plan here: Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan – Environmental Assessment July 2013
See project website here
Comment online: Submit Comments
Mail comments to: Kezia Nielsen, Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan / Environmental Assessment, Zion National Park, Springdale, UT 84767
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