Zion National Park to resume issuing hiking permits in the Narrows — but it’s only a temporary solution

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hikers in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Wednesday May 6, 2015.

Zion National Park will resume issuing permits for the top-down portion of the hike through the Zion Narrows on Saturday, after Washington County secured a temporary recreational access license through the end of 2018.

Park officials had discontinued the permits earlier this week after a private landowner posted “trespassing fee” signs in the popular canyon, closing about a mile of it to public access, and signs indicated the area was for sale.

“We greatly appreciate the goodwill of the landowners and the efforts of the Washington County Commission in quickly resolving access concerns at the entrance to the Virgin River Narrows,” Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion National Park superintendent, said in a news release.

Discussions are ongoing to secure a more permanent solution, the release said.

The 16-mile, one-way hike through the Virgin River Narrows is one of the most renowned in the park. It begins at the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead and cuts between towering cliff walls to the Temple of Sinewava trailhead at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

The suspension of permits was expected to hurt Springdale-based guides and outfitters that support Narrows trips as the fall tourism season ramps up. Some visitors’ fall vacation plans also were spoiled.

(Christopher Cherrington) | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Scott Bulloch, who owns the property, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he wants hikers to be able to cross his family’s land in the Narrows and wants the federal government to own or at least hold easements on his 880-acre parcel — but federal regulations over land appraisals appeared to be getting in the way of that.

For the past few years, Bulloch and his sons have been negotiating an acquisition with the feds, who he contends are lowballing the property. Out of frustration, the family posted the controversial signs, which also announce the property is for sale.

Triggering that move was the federal government’s rejection of a third-party appraisal, commissioned by the nonprofit organization Trust for Public Land. The findings of the trust’s Park City-based appraiser are confidential, but he says he conducted a legitimate appraisal.

The Forest Service, which is overseeing the proposed transaction, rejected the appraisal because it used comparables the agency argues inflated the value of land with limited development potential. Another appraisal is in the works.

Zion is saddled with 3,000 acres of private inholdings, complicating management for the park service. Its boundaries do not cover critical access points for some of the park’s amazing places, including Orderville and Parunuweap canyons.

Securing such access is the mission of The Trust for Public Land, which had previously brokered easements for Chamberlain Ranch to serve as the upper trailhead for the Narrows. The nonprofit organization has said it remains committed to the Bulloch deal.