ST. GEORGE — Only acts of nature and the lack of a permit will keep hikers from enjoying the entire 16-mile length of The Narrows in Zion National Park for the foreseeable future, according to those behind a deal made for the one mile of the trail that was still in private hands.
A pact between a private developer, public agencies and a nonprofit conservation group has been reached that allows for the $1.5 million purchase of Simon Gulch by a combination of public entities and a nonprofit trust dedicated to preserving natural areas.
The deal also allows the family that owned that area of the trail to continue ownership of 880 acres surrounding the gulch under a legal agreement to permanently limit the development of that land.
Simon Gulch was the last mile of The Narrows under private ownership, and its purchase now opens up all 16 miles of the trail without interruption.
“We talk a lot about right of ways for motorized vehicles. This is a right of way for people,” said Victor Iverson, a commissioner for Washington County which was included in the deal.
The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group that works to preserve public spaces, spearheaded the deal. Diane Regas, CEO of the trust, said in a statement that the deal will ensure the permanent protection of The Narrows.
“It took extraordinary commitment from many partners with diverse views to protect this majestic place for people and shows we can do tremendous things when we work together,” Regas said.
According to the National Parks Service, The Narrows is the smallest section of Zion Canyon, with walls a thousand feet tall and a tributary running through the middle. The bottom portion of the trail is available to hike without a permit, while a permit is required to hike the upper portion that includes Simon Gulch. The slot canyon trail is also prone to flooding, which can cause closures and was also the site of a rescue in June.
In September 2018, the Bulloch family — the private owners of Simon Gulch — closed it to public use, causing the National Park Service to no longer issue permits for the top-down hike of the Narrows from the Chamberlain’s Ranch trailhead. Only the nonpermitted hike from the bottom up — or from the Temple of Sinawava to Big Springs — was permitted.
Last January, the county and the Trust for Public Land reached a temporary agreement with the Bulloch family to allow public passage through its land while a more permanent solution was worked on.
The Bulloch family said in a statement their goal was always to make sure the land was protected.
“The Zion Narrows trail attracts visitors from around the world, and we are happy that it will now be properly protected and managed in its entirety,” the statement reads. “We are proud to formally share this area with the world both now and into the future.”
In June, the Washington County Commission approved $100,000 toward the purchase of Simon Gulch.
“It is so difficult for the federal government to operate under any timetable, so in their frustration, they shut it down,” Iverson said, adding the deal reached this week was an example of a public-private partnership working. “This is a win-win because it was great for the private property owners to arrive at a solution and the county was happy to be a part of that.”
Besides Washington County, the U.S. Forest Service, Quality Growth Commission of Utah, the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, the National Park Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration also helped fund the acquisition.
Along with selling Simon Gulch, the Bulloch family signed a conservation easement with the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands for the land they will continue to own around The Narrows.
According to the National Conservation Easement Database, a conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation value. The land remains in private hands and does not automatically make that property open to the public, but limits any future development.
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