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Emily W. Jensen: The Mormon story behind Zion National Park

Published: Monday, May 30 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

ST. GEORGE, Utah — The story of Zion National Park shouldn't be told without telling the story of Mormon Settlement in Southern Utah, Lyman Hafen, of the Zion National History Association, said Friday afternoon at the Mormon History Association’s annual conference.

Zion National Park was not named as a gathering place, in traditional Mormon terms but was named, “as legend has it,” Hafen explained, by Mormon settler Isaac Behunin, “who, on an evening gazing at the towers of stone on his front yard, was reading in Isaiah, first coined the usage of ‘Zion.’”

Nephi Johnson was the first LDS settler who made his way up Zion’s Canyon, in 1858. This was six years after the first pioneers came to Southern Utah, and as Hafen explained, “it took that long for (one of the settlers) to go up the canyon.” Johnson, at the direction of Brigham Young, was looking for more and better areas of settlement. He made it all the way up to what is known as “The Narrows” of the canyon and then hiked back down, but he opened the way for further exploration of what would become Zion National Park.

Another prominent southern Utahn Hafen spotlighted was David Flanigan, whose father told him of a prophesy that Brigham Young made when he visited Zion in 1870 that “someday lumber would come off those canyon walls, flying like a hawk.”

At the time, lumber was a scarce commodity, and it took two weeks for the settlers to travel up to the plateau to procure the wood. As a 15-year-old in 1888, Flanigan hiked up the East Rim of Zion, and he began dreaming of ways to make President Young’s prophesy come true. In the ensuing years, he proceeded to build the original cable system that brought lumber 2,000 feet down to the canyon “lowering lumber in a matter of minutes, what took days and weeks otherwise,” Hafen explained.

These are just a few of the stories of Mormon settlers, Hafen said, who helped shape the area that now welcomes “millions and tens of millions”: Zion National Park.

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