Twenty environmental groups are urging the federal government to buy land near the entrance to Zion National Park to prevent a proposed indoor big-screen theater and a hotel there.
But owners of the land say they are no longer interested in selling to the government and say the purchase price that environmentalists suggest is way low and "totally unrealistic."The environmental coalition this week asked the federal government to spend $964 million in Land and Water Conservation trust funds to buy key environmental and historic lands in 48 states - including the 12 acres near Zion park, which are in sight of Zion's Watchman Campground.
The coalition's documents said, "A giant big-screen theater, 80-room hotel and 275-space parking lot proposed for the site would unavoidably intrude on visitors' camping in the park and impair the spectacular views of Zion now enjoyed by visitors entering and leaving the park."
They suggest the government buy the 12 acres for$500,000.
But Steve Heaton, one of five partners who own the land, said that amount is 50 percent less than what they paid for it in 1984 - before they built a grocery store and two other buildings there.
"It's totally unrealistic," Heaton said. "If they offered $500,000 an acre, then maybe we'd be interested."
At present, he said the partnership is interested in selling to no one. But it is working a deal with World Odyssey Inc., of Los Altos, Calif. - whose production manager is Oscar-winning filmmaker and native Utahn Kieth Merrill - to construct the giant-screen theater and hotel.
Merrill has told the Deseret News the project would be environmentally sensitive, and a giant-screen movie about Zion would add to visitors' enjoyment of the park.
Heaton said that at one time, his partnership discussed with the National Parks and Conservation Association - a private environmental group - the possibility of selling the land to it.
George T. Frampton, president of the Wilderness Society, issued a statement about the coalition's proposed land purchases nationwide saying, "Once forests, fields and streams give way to fast food strips and office buildings, they're gone forever."
Besides the Zion land, the environmental groups also suggested that the government spend another $17.3 million from trust funds to buy a total of 65,128 acres at 18 other sites in Utah for environmental and historical preservation, or enhancement of recreational opportunities. They include:
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge - They suggest buying 38,000 acres north of the refuge for $8.7 million by purchasing hunting club and other marshlands to improve nesting areas.
Book Cliffs - They propose buying 16,000 acres on four ranches in canyon bottoms for $2.75 million to better manage wildlife, fisheries and recreation.
Calf Creek Ranch - They propose buying the ranch - where Utah Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River - to prevent imminent sale and development that could prevent public access to the most popular trailhead in Escalante Canyon.
Capitol Reef National Park - They propose buying for $100,000 the 640 acres lying within park boundaries that contain the portion of the Burr Trail that traverses the steep Waterpocket Fold and hiking access to Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons.
Daniel's Canyon - They propose buying for $120,000 the 1,200 acres in Daniel's Canyon adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument for designation as wilderness.
Desert tortoise critical habitat - They propose buying for $11,200 320 acres on the Beaver Dam slope about 20 miles southwest of St. George to protect tortoises.
Dixie National Forest - They propose buying for $1.9 million about 760 acres of private land inside the forest near Castle Creek to protect wildlife habitat.
Dolores River oxbow - They propose buying for $100,000 about 143 acres within an oxbow on the Dolores about 32 miles northeast of Moab that is used by wintering bald eagles.
Fremont River narrows - They propose spending $128,000 for 160 acres 10 miles southeast of Loa, Wayne County, for waterfowl habitat - and to reduce livestock and water diversion trespass.
Golden Spike National Historic Site - They propose spending $450,000 for 532 acres to effect a boundary change authorized by Congress in 1980 but never funded. It would help protect railroad construction worker campsites and borrow pits, which may be threatened with erosion and overgrazing by cattle.
Mill Creek Ranch - They propose spending $1 million for 360 acres on the ranch near Moab to protect fisheries and wildlife.
Negro Bill Canyon - They propose spending $54,000 to buy 640 acres in the canyon near Moab to prevent commercial development in the area of high sandstone cliffs.
Parunuweap Canyon - They propose spending $32,000 to 640 acres of state school land directly east and adjacent to Zion National Park. It said that land severs U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction of adjoining canyons.
Red Mountain - They propose spending $64,000 for 1,280 acres 10 miles north of St. George in two state school sections that pose management problems because they allow easy all-terrain vehicle access into the interior of the area.
Robidoux inscription - They propose spending $12,000 for 40 acres of an inscription by famous trapper Antoine Robidoux. The area includes several pictographs and petroglyphs.
Rush Lake - They propose spending $226,000 to buy 1,005 acres at the south end of Rush Lake near Stockton, Tooele County where 200 to 250 eagles winter.
Virgin River - They propose spending $23,000 for 66 acres along the flood plain of the Virgin near Zion National Park to protect the endangered Wound Fin Minnow and other fish.
Wasatch National Forest - They propose spending $800,000 for 3,160 acres for inclusion in the Hole-in-the-Rock Wildlife Management Area.