Southern Utah celebrates 100 years of inspiration at Zion National Park

SOUTHERN UTAH — For some people, it carries a challenge that can’t go unanswered; to others, it’s a place to be absorbed in nature and quietly reflect. No matter what the reason, most visitors would agree, a trip to Zion National Park is an experience like nothing else.

Lyman Hafen speaking at Dixie State University for Zion National Park’s centennial celebration, St. George, Utah, Nov. 19, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

“In Zion Canyon, forever is now. And now is the crucial time for all of us to consider Zion’s future,” Lyman Hafen, director of the Zion Forever Project, told a crowd gathered at Dixie State University to celebrate the park’s centennial anniversary. “Zion is forever.”

At the “Party of the Century,” an event sponsored by the Zion Forever Project this week to commemorate the milestone, hundreds of Southern Utahns gathered to share an evening of stories, poetry and music. Local band, 3hattrio, was there to perform a new number, “Zion Song,” which was inspired by the park.

Hafen, who has led the nonprofit for 23 years in its effort to preserve the park for future generations, said the evening was a chance to look toward the next 100 years and beyond.

“From the beginning, the Paiute have called the canyon Mukuntuweap. In 1909, after it became inhabited by my and many of your ancestors, it became Mukuntuweap National Monument,” Hafen said. “On Nov. 19, 1919, 100 years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation creating Zion National Park. Over the succeeding century, millions upon millions of people from every corner of the earth have come to experience its beauty, majesty, mystery and sanctuary.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox implored the crowd to continue recognizing the park’s importance to Utah.

“I hope we do always remember and recognize how sacred this park is and how important it is to protect and preserve for generations to come. … May God bless you in this great work in preserving and protecting this park for future generations,” he said. “What an honor it is to be here with you on this very special birthday. We all know that Zion National Park is a national treasure.”

Zion Forever Project’s “Party of the Century” for Zion National Park centennial celebration, St. George, Utah, Nov. 19, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

Zion National Park attracts 4.5 million visitors per year, and Zion Forever’s director Mark Priess said everyone plays a part in its protection. Through the project’s work, philanthropic efforts have increased by 320%. Along with its numerous avenues for community outreach around Southern Utah, the organization has 27 different projects in development across three parks including Zion, Cedar Breaks and Pipe Springs National Monument. As of this week, the group began to reconstruct the Middle Emerald Pools trail which has been closed to public use for the past 10 years.

“When you think about laying the foundation its next 100, that’s exactly what you’ve all been a part of doing,” Preiss said. “Tonight is a night of gratitude, acknowledgment. … It’s a narrative of hope, tenacity and inspiration that all you have a part in.” 

Like the walls of Zion Canyon, the evening had many layers. In addition to the release of “Zion Song” from 3hattrio’s new album, the event also served as the exclusive debut for the park’s new full-length feature film, “Zion Forever,” from Utah-based filmmakers Local Studio. The non-traditional film takes viewers into the world of several diverse characters in Utah and abroad and is set against the backdrop of two mountain climbers on their first ascent of a world-famous climbing route. It ponders the question of “why is Zion National Park an inspiration to me.”

Hafen said the film, directed by Sean Slobodan, is meant to inspire our own stories and our own connections to Zion. Instead of just checking off a list of things visitors should see, it connects them in a more personal way through the stories of the many ways people come to visit the area. An edited 24-minute version will soon be playing every half-hour in the park’s visitor center museum auditorium. 

“This is the story of Zion Forever and what is possible when folks come together to help sustain and caretake one of the most sacred places on the planet,” Preiss said.

“Influenced by the spectacular geologic and biological wonder that the park already is, the story of Zion is also one of human history that we honor and embrace. Indigenous people lived in the virgin river canyons for centuries,” said Jeff Bradybaugh, superintendent of Zion National Park. “The story of the park’s development reflects that of the nation.”

For the next century’s vision for the park, he said they need to retain and restore authentic visitor experiences that reflect the needs of a diverse society seeking recreation in the great outdoors. 

We need to embrace the cultural traditions and knowledge of those that came before us — the pioneers of the area, the indigenous people. Not as reminders of the past, but as living cultures that contributed our appreciation, knowledge and management of national parks and our communities,” Bradybaugh said.

He said the park must also enhance their engagements with children that aren’t spending time outdoors, which he believes is detrimental to both their health and their education. 

“These young people are America’s future and we have an important role in developing them as well-rounded and knowledgeable citizens, steep in the cultural history of our country and the values of public lands. We must rehabilitate facilities to meet the evolving needs of users, and over-arching all of these, our second-century vision wants to ensure the integrity of cultural, natural and recreational resources in perpetuity.”

But this cannot be done by those in the park, the National Park Service or the Federal Government all on their own.

“Our new vision must again, as it has in the past, look to collaboration. Protecting park resources and meeting the needs of the visitors requires engagement across a broad spectrum of partners. While there are plenty of challenges for our second century, by working together with many partners, Zion’s second century is indeed a bright future focused on exemplary visitor experiences, leadership in resource conservation and opportunities for spiritual recreation to benefit all our citizens. Thank you for all you do and all you will do in the future as keepers of Zion National Park,” Bradybaugh said. “Zion is forever.”

The full version of “Zion Forever” will be released in Spring 2020.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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