ST. GEORGE — Earlier this week, Washington County entered into an agreement with Zion National Park to reopen the Kolob Canyons area to day use. This has also led to the reopening of the park’s South Compound.
Also referred to as the Kolob Fingers and Zion National Park’s western entrance at Exit 40 on Interstate 15, the area was closed with the rest of the national park earlier this year due to COVID-19 concerns. When the park officially reopened May 13, it did so in a limited capacity that left the Kolob Canyons area closed to the public.
The reason the park’s western entrance wasn’t reopened was due to having limited staff and not being able to dedicate services to keeping the public restrooms in the area cleaned, County Commissioner Gil Almquist said Wednesday during a special meeting of the County Commission.
The continued closure of the Kolob Canyons entry into Zion National Park was something the commission had only recently been made aware of, Almquist said, which resulted in the county reaching out to park officials concerning the matter.
“For that (area) not to be open as another relief valve for people coming to the area and helping spread them out – which is what tourism and Kevin Lewis (director of the Greater Zion Tourism Office) have been trying to do – and show them we have other places to go other than right down that Zion corridor through Springdale – that frustrated us and we started asking a lot of questions,” Almquist said.
This is how the commission learned of the reduction in park staff despite the national park having experienced an estimated 75% drop in visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, it has been estimated that up to 400,000 people visited the Kolob Canyons area annually in recent years.
Wanting that area reopened to public access, the county began working with the NPS over what could be done and settled on a cooperative agreement in which the county would fund the cleaning of restrooms through a third party using coronavirus relief bill funds.
“These funds will be coming from COVID funds that have come from the federal government to the county for these very types of issues,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the agreement with Zion National Park. However, while the restroom will be opened and cleaned, the visitor center proper will remain closed for the time being.
In addition to providing custodial services for the restrooms, the county also had the option to use additional funding for the reopening of the park’s South Campground.
“I think it would be helpful to open that campground as well,” Lewis said as he addressed the County Commission Wednesday. “It provides more access for people and places to stay. There are so many things shut down right now that any access is good access.”
In an email sent to elected officials in Springdale from Zion National Park, it was noted that, thanks to a “generous donation” from the County Commission that provides janitorial services to the restrooms at Kolob Canyon, the area will be reopened for day use Aug. 19.
Additionally, the agreement with the County Commission has allowed the park to redeploy staff so the South Campground can reopen as well, according to the email.
The South Campground is set to reopen this Sunday.
Camping reservations can be obtained through recreation.gov.
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