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Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway


Zion National Park officials say it's time for the Mount Carmel Highway to be rehabilitated. Photo by Ken Lund via flickr.

Talk about ambitious. The folks at Zion National Park are planning to do the first substantial rehabilitation of the Mount Carmel Highway in nearly 80 years, something that will not be an overnight job.

Indeed, right now the crystal ball envisions a two-year project, as the work would involve rehabilitating, restoring, and resurfacing approximately 9 miles of road from Canyon Junction to the East Entrance (excluding the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel).

True, this isn't a massive project like the ongoing rehab of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park or that of the General's Highway in Sequoia National Park. But if you've ever driven the Mount Carmel Highway in Zion, you know about its switchbacks, steep grades, and the beautiful stonework performed by the CCC crews way back when.

As might be expected, time and traffic have taken a decided toll on the red asphalt highway and now it's time to address the deterioration. With that in mind, Zion officials are embarking on an environmental assessment to determine the best approach.

The proposed project is planned for two years. The first year would focus on the road from Canyon Junction to the west entrance into the tunnel and is proposed for fall 2009. The second year would complete the project from the east entrance to the tunnel to the east park boundary and is proposed for fall 2011.

The public will have two opportunities to comment on this project: first during scoping (now), and again following the release of the EA. Park officials currently are in the scoping phase of this project and invite you to submit your comments. If you wish to comment, you can do so at this site or you can mail comments to Zion National Park, Zion Mt. Carmel Road Rehabilitation, Springdale, UT 84767.

Comments are being accepted until December 11, 2008.

For more information on this proposed project contact Kezia Nielsen, Environmental Protection Specialist, at (435) 772-0211 or visit the NPS planning website.


Having just visited beautiful Zion and having driven on this road in Oct 2008, it was easy to see that the road has been repaired and patched a lot and needs to be re-surfaced. But I think the switch backs and steep grades should remain. I drove a small RV, a pick-up truck camper, and didn't have any problems. The switch backs and steep grades add to the character of the place. Maybe the road needs more "turn outs". The large and long RVs have no business being on this road anyway because of the tunnel. The red road surface does add to the character of the park, but if it costs significantly more to resurface the road "red", then it may not be worth keeping the "red". The money may be better spent making the road surface more durable. I suspect that the federal government budgets for national parks is going to get very tight so every dollar needs to be spent carefully.

Hey Buzzman, not to worry, no plans to change the gradients or switchbacks. And I'd bet the red asphalt will remain as well. I don't think it costs significantly more. More pullouts would be nice, though not sure where to squeeze them in....

Yes, of course I have to speak against this boondoggle project. The best "rehabilitation" of this area would be to rehabilitate it to its former road-less condition.

As for the red color of the road, that comes from volcanic cinders. Those are mined from cinder cones and leave horrible scars in nature; those who in one breath condemn our government for selling petroleum leases, and in the next advocate mining of cinders for government use, are hypocritical.

So Frank, is it not also hypocritical to call for the Mount Carmel Road to revert to its "former road-less condition" and yet use a computer, drive to work, and take advantage of all the latest technologies and conveniences of today's world?

On one hand you seem to detest all infrastructure in parks, and yet have no qualms about using that infrastructure outside the parks.

We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.

The presence of roads in our national parks is the primary - if not the only - way that most people visit them. Without visitors, the parks would have little constituency. Without a constituency, the parks would be overrun by those would would destroy them. Do you really think that so many parks would have been created if people had not been able to visit them, appreciate them, and support their creation? Or perhaps you believe that only those who are hearty enough to be able to hike into your roadless parks should be able to enjoy them. Sorry about that young kids, older people, handicapped people, and anyone who can't undertake a 50 mile hike into the wilderness... you're not welcome to visit our roadless parks.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to the parks - on roads! We didn't hike (although I always wanted to). As an adult, I've spent virtually every vacation with my family in the parks. We always hike and my son has become far more attuned to nature and the importance of protecting it and of protecting these cathedrals than I was at his age. He will be a vocal park supporter for the rest of his life.

If you believe that the parks would enjoy even a fraction of the public support that they receive now without people having the ability to drive to and through them, you are living in a fantasy world.

Frank –

Although I certainly respect the high regard you hold for areas such as parks, Vince has a good grasp of the political realities involved in setting those areas aside in the first place – along with the even more pressing realities confronting those areas today. A broad constituency will become more critical than ever if our parks are to survive.

I'd suggest that we'd have few parks today without the roads and development that made it possible for people to get to—and into—those areas. That public awareness of the wonders contained in previously inaccessible areas helped build the support needed for many of the parks we have today.

As an example, consider the political battle over the establishment of Crater Lake National Park in 1902. There were people in positions of power who opposed the concept of any additional national parks. Here’s what happened when supporters of the Crater Lake bill tried to move it along in Congress, taken from Crater Lake's Administrative History:

Despite the favorable report by the committee, the bill encountered opposition from House Speaker David B. Henderson of Iowa. Because there were a number of national parks and battlefield bills before the House at the time Henderson refused to recognize any of them. Thus, when Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa attempted to call up the bill for consideration by the Committee of the Whole on March 14, Henderson refused to permit the bill to be debated.

The bill was finally allowed to come up for a vote only after the personal intervention of President Teddy Roosevelt. Would that, and other parks, have been established if they had been designated as roadless areas? Good question, but I suspect not.

Do we need wilderness areas where human impacts are minimized to the greatest extent possible? Absolutely. Has development gotten out of hand in some parks? There's a topic that can fuel some lively debate, but I'd say "yes." I'd suggest that a balance of wilderness and carefully designed access and facilities for visitors is a reasonable goal for the system as a whole. We haven't always succeeded, but we're a lot better off with what we have vs. few parks at all.


Thank you for your level response; it is very much appreciated.

Over the last few years, I have forced myself to become more moderate on my outlook on roads and vehicles in parks. (I think it moderate, for instance, to close East Rim Drive at Crater Lake to auto traffic. Or Zion's east side for that matter. There are still plenty of opportunities for motoring remaining. These measures would not create a situation where someone would have to undertake "50 mile hike into the wilderness", as some have absurdly proposed.) However, I think it is important to point out the double standard among environmentalists and park enthusiasts when it comes to CO2 production, mining, and other activities that impact parks and the environment.

The political realities of the current situation are clear to me, but with a paradigm shift, parks can be insulated from politics. Our treasures deserve better than the self-serving politicians and parasitic lobbyists currently in control.

I'm glad you quoted Crater Lake's administrative history; I read it as a seasonal, and the admin history lists Joaquin Miller's article "Sea of Silence" in its bibliography. (Although the administrative history seems not to include Miller's original 1904 article from "Sunset". Maybe because it shows an early opposition to government "progress" at Crater Lake?)

Miller pleaded, "No hotel or house or road of any sort should ever be built near this Sea of Silence. All our other parks have been surrendered to hotels and railroads. Let us keep this last and best sacred to silence and nature."

Miller--and successive generations--lost out to the growing federal leviathan, "progress", and interest groups of the time.

But we've come a long way. We know better now. We can pry loose the corporatist stranglehold on our parks. Sacrificing silence and solitude to the industrial machine so that people will support parks is an unnecessary compromise forced upon us by corporatist America. NPT has taken a stance against snowmobiles and OHVs, claiming there is plenty of other space in the country for those activities; the same is true for cars in parks.

Whether or not parks would have been established without industrial access is a moot point. We have these parks NOW and we have the choice NOW to begin restoring them--and the Organic Act--to their original intent: unimpaired preserves and refuges from the modern world.

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