ST. GEORGE — A group of municipalities, public land management agencies, state agencies and other area stakeholders focused on the corridor around Zion National Park is working toward having a section of state Route 9 designated as a National Scenic Byway.
The Zion Regional Collaborative, which sponsors studies, plans and projects designed to enhance the quality of life for residents within the Zion corridor and visitors to Zion National Park, is going after the national designation for the nearly 30 miles of SR-9 that stretch from LaVerkin to the east entrance of the park.
The entirety of the state Route from Exit 16 off Interstate 15 all the way to Mt. Carmel Junction in Kane County was designated a Utah Scenic Byway in 1990, Emily Friedman, facilitator for the collaborative, said.
It is known today as the Zion Scenic Byway.
Though they eventually hope to extend the designation along the entire highway, the group is currently focusing their efforts on the smaller section.
The project has been in the works since 2008, Friedman said, when the forerunner to the collaborative – the Zion Canyon Corridor Council – initiated the process and laid much of the groundwork for the application.
The collaborative’s efforts to receive the national designation were recently revived due to the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019.
In September of 2019, the act was signed by the President Donald Trump and became Public Law 116-57. This law requires the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to solicit nominations for certain roads to be designated as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads, information from the National Scenic Byways Program said.
Friedman said that the state of Utah has two main requirements to be eligible for the nomination. First, the highway must already be designated a state scenic highway; and second, there has to be an extensive corridor management plan drafted and adopted by the Utah legislature.
Both of those requirements for SR-9 have already been met. The state designation has been in place for decades, Friedman said, and the Zion Canyon Corridor Council drafted the corridor management plan for the 30-mile section in question between 2008 and 2011. The management plan was adopted by the Utah house and senate in 2011.
“We’re one of the first byways in the state of Utah that has that corridor management plan adopted at that level,” Friedman said.
There are a handful of byways in Utah with the national designation already, including Highway 12 – also known as A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway – that traverses parts of Garfield and Wayne counties. Highway 12 has also received an All-American Road designation, which has additional requirements beyond the National Scenic Byway designation.
A national designation is administered by the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and is recognized for one or more of six intrinsic qualities, Friedman said.
Those qualities are: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic.
For the purposes of the SR-9 designation, the collaborative will be focusing on the highway’s scenic quality, Friedman said.
The scenic quality is defined in the National Scenic Byways Program as: “The heightened visual experience derived from the view of natural and man-made elements of the visual environment of the scenic byway corridor. The characteristics of the landscape are strikingly distinct and offer a pleasing and most memorable visual experience.”
“It seems to be the primary trait of the Zion Scenic Byway,” Friedman said.
To be eligible, the collaborative must produce evidence of that intrinsic quality along the byway in the form of eight different scenic examples with pictures of each.
Specific scenic vistas have not been chosen yet, but Friedman said they have a fairly decent list of potential sites.
As they continue to compile the required data for the application, the collaborative is requesting letters of support from each of the municipalities and management agencies along the route. So far, the collaborative has successfully garnered letters from LaVerkin and Springdale, Friedman said, and they hope to get Virgin and Rockville on board soon.
While it isn’t a requirement of the application process, Friedman said she hopes that businesses, residents and other stakeholders in the area will lend their support to the designation as well.
“Any group that is going to be deeply impacted by what occurs along the byway should have a say,” Friedman said.
Some of the potential positive impacts of the designation include an increased sense of community pride as well as more tangible benefits to businesses along the route.
LaVerkin Mayor Richard Hirschi said that with the state Route running right through their town, the national designation could potentially increase advertising of the area and bolster local businesses.
“It can only be a plus for us,” Hirschi said.
Additionally, Friedman said, the collaborative hopes that the designation will help disperse visitors along the Zion corridor by increasing awareness of the many scenic sites outside of Zion National Park itself. Friedman named such sites as Grafton Ghost Town, the historic Rockville Bridge and the Eagle Crags.
“We’re trying to really emphasize that there’s a lot more to this region than just Zion National Park,” Friedman said.
In the past, a National Scenic Byway designation has also come with the added bonus of federal dollars in the form of grants. Those grants could be used for printed interpretive materials, highway rest areas or other improvements along the corridor. Though those dollars are not currently available, Friedman said they believe that there is future potential for those grants to become funded again.
While Friedman touted many of the potential benefits of the designation, she said that the collaborative feels it is also important to address potential concerns, many of which center on personal/private property rights and local authority.
In an email sent to St. George News, Friedman said that the new designation would not carry any new land-use restrictions.
Addressing those concerns, Friedman said:
The only relevant restriction is on outdoor advertising (billboards), but that restriction has been in place as part of Utah’s State Scenic Byways Law since 1990. Our Corridor Management Plan contains a section that intentionally address protection of private property rights, assuring readers that the (management plan) will not affect the authority of local government or private property owners, does not have the power to change land use or zoning ordinances, will not limit commercial development, etc…
Anyone wishing to express their support or their concerns can contact Friedman at [email protected].
Going forward, the collaborative will finalize the application, review it at their next Zion Regional Collaborative workshop in April and send it off for final approval. The deadline for the application is May 15.
The new list of National Scenic Byways will be announced in early fall of this year.
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