ST. GEORGE — The National Park Service turned 104 Tuesday, and to celebrate, members of the Zion National Park Forever Project staff and board spent the day at Cedar Breaks National Monument to draw attention to what was called the “crown jewel” of the area and help with fundraising efforts to build a new visitor contact station at the park.
One of several fee-free days in the park, the celebration commemorates the day that former President Woodrow Wilson created the service tasked with managing and maintaining all of the national parks, monuments, battlegrounds, historical sites and more that are part of the National Park Service.
In lieu of paying entrance fees, visitors to Cedar Breaks were encouraged to donate to what Zion Forever Project executive director Lyman Hafen called a truly grassroots effort to help raise additional funds for the visitor contact station.
“It’s just awesome to be up here and to have a chance on a more grassroots level to connect with people, share the story and get $5 and $15 and $20 donations for this project,” Hafen said.
Cedar Breaks National Monument Superintendent Kathleen Gonder said the entire “Enhance the View” project is a 50/50 funded project with almost half of the money coming from the National Park Service Centennial Challenge, which uses revenue generated from sales of the park system’s senior pass, and the rest being raised through Zion Forever.
The new visitor contact station is something that Hafen said has been needed for a long time.
“Our board of directors have been talking for at least 15 years about what we can do to support Cedar Breaks to help make a difference there and to really bring that wonderful national monument the physical facilities it really deserves and should have,” Hafen said.
“It’s really a legacy project, a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference in a place like this,” he added.
The new facility, which will be built at Point Supreme where the restrooms and fee station currently sit, will provide space for an information area, exhibits and a bookstore facility for the Zion Forever Project. Construction will also include new restroom facilities and a covered patio area where guests can shelter from inclement weather or enjoy activities held during Cedar Breaks events such as the Wildflower Festival and dark sky programs.
The current historic cabin that acts as a visitor center and bookstore will remain on site and will be used as an additional space for educational displays.
Gonder said what she is most excited about for the new visitor contact station is the opportunity it will bring to provide increased educational resources to park visitors, many of whom are visiting a national park site or the outdoors for the first time.
“We’re seeing visitors who have never come to a national park before, they’ve never camped, they don’t know how to set up a tent, they don’t know and understand the etiquette for a campfire,” Gonder said, adding that it puts a lot of responsibility on park staff to help educate guests.
But despite the additional responsibility, Gonder said it is exciting to see so many people heading to the outdoors and reconnecting with their families, something she speculated was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gonder said that despite her frustrations with the pandemic, it is opening a door to a demographic that has never used the National Park Service before.
“That is so cool,” she said. “It’s exciting to see these lightbulbs go off, and we’re seeing families coming and reconnecting as families instead of being at home with all their extracurriculars and their devices that they don’t even talk to each other anymore.”
Gonder said visitation at Cedar Breaks National Monument for June was up 20% from 2019 and visitation in July was up 25% with almost no international visitors.
“I can’t wait to see what we end up for the year,” Gonder said, adding that she is looking forward to seeing if the recent uptick in visitors to the outdoors represents a long term change in behavior.
“Have we introduced the outdoors to a group of people who are going to keep coming? I hope so,” she said.
As the visitors do come, Gonder said she is looking forward to the new contact station, which will hopefully be a place that says to guests, “I have arrived.”
Though Zion National Park is typically at the center of what the Zion Forever Project – which fundraises for Zion, Cedar Breaks and Pipe Spring National Monument – does, Hafen said it is nice to be doing a big capital project for Cedar Breaks, which he said is no less impactful in the National Park system.
“Obviously Zion is sort of the center of the universe for our public lands world, but Cedar Breaks is sort of this crown jewel way up high,” Hafen said.
“The opportunity to do something significant at Cedar Breaks is something in my career that I just have looked forward to,” Hafen said. “It’s a real honor to be connected to this place.”
Throughout the day Tuesday, Zion Forever Project board and staff members met with park visitors, shared the story of Cedar Breaks – including its geologic, cultural and economic importance – and encouraged people to donate to the project.
While many visitors donated to the efforts, Hafen said they still need a few larger donations from private businesses to help bridge the gap.
“Obviously for it to completely come together we need corporate donations and we need big chunks, and those are coming and have come,” Hafen said.
Hafen said they at Zion Forever feel like they are on a track to have the money raised by the end of the year and for the project to begin in spring of 2021.
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