National Park Service officials have completed a management plan for the 144 miles of waterways found within Zion National Park, the first waters in Utah included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
"The plan helps us identify things we can monitor to maintain the wild and scenic status," said Kezia Nielsen, planning and protection specialist at Zion National Park. "Most visitors will not notice a difference in how they use the park."
Safeguarding America’s rivers
Waters in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System are classified as wild, scenic or recreational. Each is protected to enhance the qualities that led to the designation, but development is not prohibited and the federal government does not gain control over private property.
All three classifications are used on the Virgin River and its tributaries.
Wild River Areas » Rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, such as dams or diversions, and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.
Scenic River Areas » Rivers or sections that are not impounded, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
Recreational River Areas » Rivers or sections readily accessible by road or railroad, which may have some development along their shorelines and which may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.
Congress designated 169 miles of the Virgin River and its tributaries in and around the park as Wild and Scenic Waterways as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.
The Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan will keep track of possible impacts such as crowding, wildlife issues and possible damage at cultural resource sites. Wild and Scenic waters are less accessible and developed.
The Bureau of Land Management is working on its own management plan for the rivers flowing into and coming out of Zion.
"We worked cooperatively with the BLM since the rivers are continuous and contiguous between lands managed by both agencies," Nielsen said.
There are three categories of Wild and Scenic Rivers. All three — Recreational, Scenic and Wild — are used in Zion National Park.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, a non-profit focused on conservation and stewardship of Utah rivers, is happy to see a management plan. However, he wants to see designations — and the accompanying protections — on waters outside of national parks.
"Wild and scenic designation is viewed in Utah like a beauty contest, only used to protect extremely unique rivers that merit this extreme and rare protection," Frankel said. "That is not what the act was designed to do. Utah has taken a hostile attitude to river protection instead of protecting recreational treasures that are providing millions of dollars to Utah’s economy."
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