Deal will keep Utah’s Zion Narrows, one of the nation’s most popular trails, open through March — once the shutdown goes away

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

Family members who own 880 acres along the northeastern boundary of Zion National Park have agreed to let hikers keep wading through their piece of the Narrows for 12 more weeks.

The Bullochs, who own the property, still hope to reach a permanent deal with the federal government. Until then, the extension of a temporary agreement, announced Friday, will ensure permit-holding hikers can enter the redrock canyon through March 31. That will accommodate the winter holidays and spring break season that spikes visitation at the park.

Of course, that hinges on the government shutdown ending. The Narrows are closed right now. A notice on the park’s website says permits are not being issued and “visitors should not enter backcountry permit-only areas.”

Greg Hiner, the Southwest director of land protection at the Trust for Public Land, said his organization, the Bullochs, Washington County, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service are working to create a conservation easement that will permanently keep the the Narrows — one of the nation’s most popular hikes — open to the public.

“I have not spoken to anyone that leads me to believe we’re not all trying to figure this out and come up with a solution that honors everyone’s needs,” Hiner said Monday.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Narrows is the slimmest section of Zion Canyon, and the Virgin River runs through it. Visitors with a wilderness permit can hike 16 miles from a northeastern trailhead, through the property owned by the Bullochs — called Simon Gulch — into the national park.

Scott Bulloch, who with his sons has been negotiating with the federal government and other parties, has said he wants to keep Simon Gulch open. He just wants the government to purchase an easement out of consideration for his family owning the property for 50 years.

“We feel that property should belong to the public," Bulloch told The Salt Lake Tribune in September, “and we would like that to happen.”

After negotiations slowed last year, the Bullochs posted signs announcing a “trespassing fee.”

News of the dispute caused outdoor lovers to fear the Zion Narrows would be cut off from where the trail enters the national park.

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

A sticking point has been a third-party appraisal of the property. One appraisal didn’t meet federal government standards. Hiner said the Forest Service is conducting a second appraisal, but it has been halted by the government shutdown.

“That whole thing is on hold at the moment,” Hiner said.