HURRICANE, Washington County Zion National Park increased its entrance fees this year and is phasing out a policy that allowed residents of nearby Hurricane and Kanab to pass through the park for free a change that is causing considerable local uproar.
Residents of the two towns who previously held a residential pass can still get a local sticker on their vehicle, which allows the driver to pass through the park without paying a fee. Longtime residents who never held the pass or those new to the area will not be issued a free pass, said Shelagh Forester, Zion National Park's supervisor of fee operations. The park will phase out the local stickers for Hurricane and Kanab residents by the year 2011.
"These passes were given as a courtesy to local residents who just wanted to drive through the park (on their way to somewhere else)," Forester said. "We will not be issuing any new ones to residents of Hurricane and Kanab."
Hurricane Mayor Tom Hirschi said the park's decision to charge local residents to pass through the park is ridiculous.
"I've got such a bad taste in my mouth about the park. I've been going around it for a while now," he said. "I've heard from quite a few folks who don't like it (the new fee structure) one bit. I just quit going through the park."
Residents of Springdale, the park's gateway town, and those living in Rockville, Virgin, Toquerville, LaVerkin, Mount Carmel, Orderville and Glendale are still allowed free access through the park.
The new fee schedule was implemented on Jan. 1, after park officials held two public hearings on the subject in 2006. Private vehicles now are charged $25, an increase of $5, while the individual fee for pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists increased from $10 to $12.
A yearly pass is now $50, up from $40, and a new interagency recreation pass is selling for $80. Entry fees pay for maintenance, improving visitor facilities and services, said Zion National Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth.
"The road through the park is a federal highway, built by the federal government and the park service," Whitworth said. "It is not a thoroughfare. The national parks are not required to allow these pass throughs. We aren't making people go around the park. They can either choose to pay the fee or go around the park."
Hurricane and Kanab residents who want to reach state Route 89 on the east side of Zion either have to pay $15 to drive through the park or take state Route 59, which bypasses Colorado City and Fredonia in Arizona before swinging north to Kanab. Hirschi said he often cuts off S.R. 59 at Cane Beds in Arizona and takes a gravel/sandy road that runs past the Coral Pink Sand Dunes before connecting to S.R. 89 a few miles north of Kanab.
"As far as I'm concerned, going that way keeps my blood pressure and ulcers down," the mayor said.
Whitworth said park rangers recorded the time it took to travel both routes and determined it was easier for Hurricane residents to go around the park.
"We sent folks both ways and it took about the same amount of time," he said. "The difference in the routes is significant, though. S.R. 59 is a good, wide, fairly straight road while the road through the park is twisted, narrow and steep. We are mainly trying to manage the number of people driving through the park and the congestion it causes."
Allen Campbell is another Hurricane resident who is upset about the park's decision.
"I think that's totally wrong. That's our ground, our park, yours and mine. That's just wrong. I don't have any good feelings about driving through the park at all," he said.
Campbell said he also drives around the park, but he doesn't recommend taking the road past the sand dunes."Seven miles of that road is totally unimproved, and at times the sand is so deep and dry, I had to put my truck in four-wheel-drive just to get through," he said. "But it saved me 20 minutes of driving and 30 miles of road, so I did it."