Zion National Park’s Mount Carmel Tunnel bottlenecks with one-way traffic when a huge recreational vehicle is climbing its 25-mile Zion Scenic Byway, also known as Route 9. No RVs taller than 13 feet and 1 inch are allowed into the park’s east entrance, but the larger ones still stop traffic in one direction when they pass through. There is also a $15 fee for RVs that pass the tunnel’s allowed threshold.
But to avoid all that, an electric shuttle service from Kanab to Zion is being offered as an alternative way in for park visitors. The bus will make Zion more accessible and cut a little bit of carbon in the process.
Last week during the annual Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit in Kanab, Utah Clean Cities debuted its electric shuttle system, which is part of a larger plan to spread out Zion’s four million annual visitors to lessen the burden of mass tourism to other parts of the park like East Zion.
The shuttle service system will become a regional transportation hub with the proposed $16 million East Zion Visitor Center Applecross Station, a regional recreation planning effort led by the East Zion Initiative, which includes the McLaws family, who has donated about 20 acres of private lands for sustainable growth and conservation, Zion National Park, Kane County and state and federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, Utah Office of Tourism and Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.
The recreation plan looks to address the four-county region needs of Garfield, Kane, Iron and Washington counties.
The electric shuttle service was funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office and is a partnership with the East Zion Initiative.
Utah Clean Cities is trying to get more communities to adopt electric vehicles to cut their emissions, according to Tammie Bostick, its executive director.
“The big part of my work is to get people outdoors, especially here in our national parks, and to move people in a smart mobility way,” Bostick told The Salt Lake Tribune during the groundbreaking of the East Zion Bike Trail Network in East Fork.
The electric shuttle bus seats about 14 people, has a wheelchair ramp and makes no emissions or noise. Bostick added that these types of shuttles exist in cities and airports but not at national parks.
Zion’s east entrance starts at the Mount Carmel junction and goes up switchback grades before the entrance at the east gates. From there, traffic in the park snakes through the Mount Carmel tunnel to the park’s visitor center and onto the park’s south entrance and the gateway town of Springdale.
The Mount Carmel Tunnel slows down to a standstill every 45 minutes or so because of an oversized vehicle closing down a lane of traffic, Bostick said, noting that two shuttles provided by Utah Clean Cities are specifically made to fit the size of the Mount Carmel Tunnel and can drive through it at the same time.
The shuttles are currently a pilot program and two shuttles will be operating over the next year, with overnight charging happening at the Kanab Center.
“When the visitor center is built, there will be an entire shuttle system that will work in the park, in cohesion with the park’s existing bus and shuttle system,” Bostick said. “It’s a big step for this community.”
Out of Zion’s 4 million visitors, about 1 million of them access the park through the east entrance, said Zion National Park Superintendent Jeffery Bradybaugh.