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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Kane County residents are voting on an electric bus system to Zion National Park

A photo of the East entrance to Zion National Park.
Most visitors to Zion National Park go through its Springdale entrance. But efforts from state, local and private groups would develop and expand the east side of the park.

Kane County residents are voting on a new transit system that could change access to Zion National Park. Supporters of the proposed transit authority say it’s a new step in big plans for the east side of the park.

County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain said local, state and private leaders are working to add a visitor center and more infrastructure to the area. The proposed bus system would connect the facilities to Kanab.

“This is the last basically undeveloped corridor entrance into a national park in the country, and this is one of the top parks in the country as far as visitorship,” Chamberlain said. “So we're trying really hard to … develop this in such a way that Americans can be proud of the way it turns out.”

The push to develop East Zion comes as the park has drawn more people in recent years. It’s the third most visited national park in the country with 3.5 million visitors last year. Expanding access to the east side is something park leadership and its nonprofit sponsor, the state and nearby counties all support.

Developing the area can bring jobs into Kane County as well as larger economic benefits. Enhancing East Zion could bring 451 new jobs annually for the next 10 years, as well as $29.6 million in new GDP to Kane County, according to a report earlier this year from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

“Right now a quarter to a third of the visitors come through the east side as it is,” Chamberlain said. “If all we do is just provide a better experience for [those visitors], then we’ve accomplished a great deal.”

But some residents are against the transit proposal. Local social media posts call on residents to vote no on the ballot question. Some are concerned about the cost of the electric buses and the system as a whole. In a pamphlet sent out by the county, one resident expressed concern about government expansion saying there are already private tour groups that operate shuttles.

Kanab resident Colten Johnson doesn’t want the land to be overrun by tourists.

“We've got all these areas outside the park that are getting ruined because we're just pushing people in. We’re just advertising, promoting them,” Johnson, who is running for mayor in the city, said. “Then you've got another area that was natural and quiet and enjoyed by locals that will have the same problem.”

Commissioner Chamberlain said this new transit system would not rely on local taxpayer’s dollars. Instead, he says it will be funded by state and federal grants.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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