Springdale to ask that Zion National Park be closed

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Entrance to Zion National Park in 2014.

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Springdale’s leaders agreed Tuesday it’s time to ask that Zion National Park — one of the most popular natural attractions in the United States — be closed until the coronavirus pandemic resides.

Mayor Stan Smith, in a Town Council meeting held online, said he has drafted a letter to the park’s superintendent asking for the closure and would deliver the message Tuesday or Wednesday. The National Park Service has said it closes parks only in consultation with local governments.

Smith’s letter, coming from the park’s gateway town, could start the park service’s process, though the mayor said the commissions in Washington and Kane counties along with the local health department might have to send their own letters.

(Screenshot via Zoom) Springdale Mayor Stan Smith in an online Town Council meeting March 31, 2020. Smith and council members spoke in favor of writing to the U.S. Department of the Interior asking that Zion National Park be closed due to COVID-19.

Even if the park does close in the coming days, State Road 9 could be left open to through traffic. The highway bisects the park, connecting Springdale and towns to the east such as Kanab and Orderville.

Smith said the pandemic and asking for the park closure are hard things, noting that Springdale’s economy revolves around Zion. But Smith said he had spoken with the park’s superintendent and been told that staffers are noticing that 70% or 80% of cars entering the park recently had license plates from out of state.

The mayor said he’s also getting messages from locals asking Zion be closed after they enter it and see the crowds there.

“And I’m like, ‘What are you doing in the park?’" Smith said. "Stay out of the park.”

Springdale has four other members of the Town Council. They all supported the letter.

“We have to do everything we can to make sure visitors don’t have a reason to come here until after this thing is over," said council member Lisa Zumpft.

Another council member, Suzanne Elger, said Zion needs to be closed to encourage people to practice social distancing.

“The park is an attractive nuisance," she said, "and as we all stay home, we’re all going to get more antsy and want to go out more and the park is an attractive option.”

While some national parks, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks in southeastern Utah, already have closed at the request of local officials, Zion National Park has remained open. That’s created some concerns about the visitors the park is attracting.

One Boulder City, Nev., man told the Boulder City Review that he developed symptoms of the coronavirus on March 19 after he and his wife returned from Zion.

“We got back (home) and throughout the day I began to feel feverish and sore,” Manny Franco told the newspaper.

(NPS Photo | Avery Sloss) Crowds of greater than 10 people within 6 feet of each other on the Angels Landing Trail on Saturday, March 21, 2020.

Zion National Park posted a photo on its Facebook page March 21 of crowds on the trail to Angels Landing. Three days later, the park closed that and some other popular trails.

Three weeks ago, Smith was among the Springdale supporters encouraging people to visit Zion National Park, though he suggested visitors go to the park’s less-trafficked areas. He said Tuesday the situation has changed.

Smith also noted the personal consequence if Springdale doesn’t act to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He said most of his family lives near him, including a 1-year-old baby and a daughter-in-law who is about to give birth.

“I haven’t slept well for three weeks," he said.