CEDAR CITY — The 10,000-foot elevation of Point Supreme may have felt a little higher Monday afternoon if the enthusiastic, upraised hands of Ranger Kathleen Gonder were included.
That enthusiasm left the governor of Utah asking out loud how it could be bottled up. But Gonder said she had reason to be excited.
In an event decades in the making, ground was officially broken at Cedar Breaks National Monument for its new, much larger visitors center in an event attended by such dignitaries as Gov. Spencer Cox as well as state Sen. Rex Schipp.
The shovels in the hard ground was mostly ceremonial, as there has already been dirt dug up since June and metal rebar laid down at the site a little over 50 yards from the Caretakers Cabin that has served as a “temporary” visitor’s center since it was built in 1937.
Seeing a permanent visitor’s center actually happening had Gonder jumping for joy.
“This has been talked about since the 70s. It’s unreal, but to now finally have shovels … I mean, it’s happening, it’s real,” Gonder said. “I can’t wait for the day when the flagpole is out, we’re on the road where people can see it. And when they drive by, oh, we are in Cedar Breaks.”
Officials are hoping to open up a completed visitors center on Aug. 23, 2023 – the 90th birthday of Cedar Breaks being established as a national monument. Until then, the popular Point Supreme overlook on the golden hues of Cedar Breaks will be mostly closed to visitors.
Park officials are making it a point to say the rest of the lookouts at the national monument – including the Sunset View, Chessman Ridge and North View overlooks – will remain open to the public as weather permits.
And what visitors can still see was described by the governor as a “gem” that “many people, even in Utah, don’t know exists.”
Cox told St. George News that growing up in Sanpete County in Central Utah, he would travel south to see the more famous natural wonders of Southern Utah in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
But like many Utahns, he didn’t know the spectacular site that awaited him at Cedar Breaks. The golden towers of rock have been carved over 14 million years by Mother Nature through the fingers of Ashdown Creek and its tributaries.
“Most people outside of kind of this corner of the state don’t know much about Cedar Breaks,” Cox said, noting that as the crowds keep building up at Bryce and Zion, Cedar Breaks offers another view many find just as spectacular with much less human traffic. “This is an opportunity to come and see things that are absolutely spectacular, less crowded, easy access, and, into a couple of years, we’re gonna have this incredible visitor center to welcome people.”
And it’s not that Cedar Breaks is a fortress of solitude. There were a record 800,000 visitors last year – even during a pandemic – and Gonder said visitation has been up another 17% this year.
Officials with Zion Forever have a long-term vision of Bryce, Cedar Breaks and Zion forming triplets of places to visit nature connected through some kind of clean transportation.
Echoing that, Shipp said he sees the new visitor center leading to a time when visitors consider Cedar Breaks alongside the other “big boys” of Utah’s natural points of interest.
“We have the mighty six instead of the mighty five,” Shipp said, noting the term used for the five major national parks in Utah.
The current visitors center was built as a Civilian Conservation Corps cabin. And despite never being intended as a permanent visitor center, it has still taken in 27 million visitors over the years according to the National Park Service.
While the cabin will remain as part of the new facility, the new visitor center will be much larger and more than 1,300 square feet of covered space will also provide much more protection from the elements.
“We do get monsoons in July and in August,” Gonder said, adding when it’s not raining the sun at altitude can make it seem much warmer than it is. “And we were up here at 10,000 feet. It’s hot and they need to be able to get a place to sit down and get in out of the sun.
Also just as important, Gonder said the much larger space will provide many more educational opportunities. She is especially eager to conduct junior ranger programs.
Gonder noted one more benefit: Restrooms.
Until now, when she’s had to go, it would be a hike from the present cabin to the current restrooms in a separate building closer to the parking lot. And along the way, Gonder, who is always eager to speak with visitors, would have several run-ins with people armed with several questions about the monument in the long hike between the cabin and the restrooms.
“When you’re in uniform out to the restroom, you’re going to spend twice as much time talking to answering questions,” Gonder said.
When addressing a small crowd assembled for the groundbreaking, Cox took a moment not to say anything, letting the silence broken only by wind speak for itself.
“We listen and we don’t hear anything, and that’s the best sound in the world,” Cox told the crowd. “We need, we need more of that today, not less.”
And Cox said he hopes the new center will help visitors get the sense of renewal he gets from Cedar Breaks.
“It’s an awesome place where all the divisiveness, all of the problems that we see in our country today … this fixes it.”
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