Inside Zion National Park’s First Electric Shuttle to New Eastern Trails


Zion National Park’s first electric shuttle made its first trip just outside the park’s east side on Wednesday, with officials celebrating the opening of the first 10 kilometers of mountain bike trails in the new trails project. East Zion.

Spectrum made an exclusive first trip on the maiden shuttle trip from Kanab to Glendale with state and local officials, with Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain at the helm.

With 14 seats, a wheelchair ramp and a quiet motor, the leaders on board discussed the route to get to this point after years of writing grants, applications, campaigning, managing and building to finally watch. the shuttle will operate for the first time.

The $ 2 million shuttle was fitted with electronic interior mirrors that showed the driver the outside of the bus, with a dashboard battery level gauge positioned on the dash instead of a gauge. fuel.

Officials attend the inauguration of the first 10 kilometers of mountain bike trails in the development project on the east side of Zion National Park on Wednesday.

Just over half an hour later, the shuttle landed at Glendale, just outside Zion’s east entrance at North Fork Road, where more than 60 people gathered to celebrate the opening of the trail and the East Zion initiative.

Mark Preiss, director of the Zion Forever Project, the park’s charitable arm, praised the shuttle, saying the East Zion Initiative is the next step towards the future of the park, area and conservation.

“The next generation of our park experience in our public lands experience is going to look like a collaboration that is not only about our visitors and their experience, but also the health and well-being of our communities,” said Preiss. “We are going to determine what that will look like for the next 100 years.”

Preiss said the Shuttle Project and the East Zion Initiative is a “next-generation innovation” that requires an extensive partnership to distribute the nearly 4 million visitors who come to the country’s third most visited park.

“Nobody makes money with visitors waiting in line for hours,” Preiss said.

Officials attend the inauguration of the first 10 kilometers of mountain bike trails in the development project on the east side of Zion National Park on Wednesday.

Tammie Bostick, executive director of Utah Clean Cities, said this project and their work to push Utah toward clean energy has put the state on the radar as a leader for the entire country.

“I can’t tell you how inspiring your public-private collaboration is for the whole state. You are the iconic child of creating a sustainable economy of recreation and visitors,” said Vicki Varela, Executive Director of the Utah Tourism Board.

The proposed $ 16 million visitor center, a second for the park, is just down the bike path and marked by a few tents. An official opening of the shuttles and a first shovelful of soil for the visitor center will take place in mid-November.

Officials discussed the vision for the area around the trailhead, with a roundabout leading to an “EV electric shuttle hub and regional transportation hub connecting guests and visitors to other towns and locations. of the region, “said a press release.

With the first 10 miles of the publicly accessible mountain biking trail now complete, a fundraising effort is needed for phase two – an additional 24.5 miles of mountain biking trails and 40 miles of new hiking trails.

The American Conservation Experience built the mountain bike trail and the leaders rode it along with a group of other participants after the ribbon was cut.

Kevin McLaws, one of the sole owners of the neighboring Zion Mountain Ranch hotel, granted 20 acres of land for this project, which he said was needed for future generations.

“Often it’s the private sector that has to contribute in a way that catapults a project for the rest of the partnerships and collaboration to work,” McLaws said.

McLaws, who has compiled his 5,000 acres of land which he calls the “assemblage” since 1998, said that while keeping the land for his family is a factor, he also sees how public land makes everyone better. .

“The art of sharing these resources and the art of sharing these spaces comes down to sophisticated land use planning, important principles that you define at the base, a sustainable experience, as well as the exposure of the land. to people who want to come and do it in a way that does not disappoint generations, ”he said. “It’s not easy, but it is doable. And we’ll do it here.”

With the first 10 miles of trail in place, the event will officially open the trail and launch a fundraising effort to develop Phase II of an additional 24.5 miles of mountain bike trail and 40 miles of new hiking trail. .

Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain said that although the county is sparsely populated, he does a lot of work for the park and the state with the East Zion Initiative – what he calls the “Holy Initiative.” of Zion ”.

“You find yourself at a point here where fate has it all together… We are not done yet,” he said.

Varela said the project is a big step towards the sustainable tourism economy that the Tourist Board is considering.

“It’s so exciting to come up with ideas on how we can create a perpetual and sustainable tourism economy where visitors and communities in perpetuity can have a great experience,” she said. “I think these trails show today that it will be a heritage project, which will be a national model for national parks.”

Last August, Spectrum wrote an exclusive series of investigations into why the park’s aging shuttles couldn’t receive funding to replace them, which executives attribute to the federal Department of Transportation’s $ 33 million grant for new shuttles electric in February.

Shuttle chargers were delivered to the Kanab center in May, where future shuttles will be loaded overnight.

Jeff Bradybaugh, Superintendent of Zion, said the trail system is a “huge recreational asset” and stressed the need for visitors to “create” in their leisure time.

“It is so important for us to be in nature, to explore our cultural sites to regenerate our spirit,” he said.

Officials on Wednesday attend the inauguration of the first 10 kilometers of mountain bike trails in the development project on the east side of Zion National Park.

The grand opening is the first event of the eighth annual Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit held in Kanab, which runs through Thursday.

“The Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit is a gathering place for all sectors of the outdoors.

the leisure industry to jointly build a vision for the future, health and vitality of the outdoors

recreation in Utah, ”a press release said.

Funding and land for the East Zion Initiative came from land grants and easements from private landowners, donations to the Zion Forever Project, funding through the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation Grant, National Park Foundation, in Kane County, the statement said. Electric bikes for the new trail were provided by Magnum.

“So as we think of moving forward, and we think of recreating, and we think of renewing our minds. Let us remember that our job is not done,” Bradybaugh said.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News for the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email him at Donate to Report for America to support their work here.

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