40,000 hikers, no toilet; Kanarraville may limit visitors to protect water

This 2014 photo shows hiker Bruce Nelson in a slot canyon on the Kanarraville Falls trail. Kanarraville, Utah, July 2014 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A pending lease agreement could allow Kanarraville officials to limit hikers on the popular Kanarraville Falls trail in order to protect the town’s water supply.

Map shows area of a lease application from Kanarraville Town for property containing the popular Kanarraville Falls | Map courtesy of State Institutional Trust Lands Administration, St. George News | Click image to enlarge

Increasing visitation at the falls have put the small town’s water supply in jeopardy, Kanarraville Town Clerk David Ence said.

“The town would be remiss in their duties if they did not take steps to protect that valuable resource.”

Kanarraville has applied for a lease of up to 40 acres of land that includes the falls from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, which owns the land.

Kanarra Creek, which forms the falls, provides water to the town’s 355 residents year-round.

During the height of the hiking season, the town estimates 300 people a day use the trail, with more on weekends.

Over Labor Day weekend in 2016, town officials estimate that 3,000 people visited the area in three days. A Bureau of Land Management environmental assessment published in 2016 estimated the number of annual visitors at 40,000.

“It’s a tremendous amount of people and there are no toilets up there, so we all know what that means,” Ence said.

While limiting visitation is an option, Ence said the town will first try education.

This 2014 photo shows a hiker above one of the falls on the Kanarraville Falls trail, Kanarraville, Utah, July 2014 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Generally hikers want to do the right thing, so there will be an education process involved where we teach people that it is our water system and it’s a resource that we have to protect and that it’s necessary to … pack out what you pack in.”

Installing toilets on the trail or near the falls is not an option, Ence said, both because of the distance involved and because toilets and watersheds “don’t work.”

“We don’t see (putting in) any toilets up there; we do see education as being the key role,” Ence said.

It’s not the hikers themselves, it’s, you know, the pee and the poop.”

Town officials are specifically concerned about E. coli contamination, although no problems have shown up in testing so far, Ence said.

“But once you’ve tested positive for those kinds of things, it’s too late.”

For those hiking in slot canyons, special human waste disposal bags and kits called “WAG bags” or “blue bags” are available online and through outdoor retailers. Zion National Park already requires their use by overnight hikers in the Narrows; BLM requires use in certain slot canyons.

The trail to the falls starts in Kanarraville, next to a parking lot owned by the town. The trail passes through private property, then through property recently acquired by BLM, spokesman Christian Venhuizen said.

 Read more: BLM buys land near Kanarraville Falls, protects recreation

The trail then passes into the BLM-managed Spring Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area and, from there, onto property owned by the Trust Lands Administration.

Despite the recent land purchase, BLM can’t control access to Kanarraville Falls because the falls are not on BLM-managed land, Venhuizen said.

“We don’t have any control over that,” Venhuizen said.”There’s nothing that we can do for a trail if it’s not BLM-administered.”

As for crowding on the popular trail, the BLM is aware of the town’s concerns.

“But we literally just acquired that new piece of property and there are other factors that we have to take into consideration,” he said.

The pipeline that supplies the town’s water was originally built in 1934, according to BLM documents; the trail was closed in early April for maintenance of that pipeline.

Read more: Kanarraville Falls closes for pipeline repairs

SITLA received the special use lease application for 40 acres from town officials April 24, trust lands resource specialist Louis Brown said in an emailed response to questions.

“The status of the application is basically at the very beginning of our process,” Brown said.

“We will review the application and make a determination if it will be accepted for processing or not. If it is accepted for processing, we will then begin formal processing of the application including advertising and review through the state review process.”

Ence expects the lease application to be completed in two to three months.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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2 Comments

  • comments May 3, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I agree. 1000 people a day urinating and defecating in your water supply–things get real bad real fast.

  • valia May 4, 2017 at 6:49 am

    I don’t see news articles written as professionally as this one very often. Thank you, Julie for your completeness and clarity. I hope to see more of your work.

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