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Illegal Guiding Service Busted in Zion National Park


Canyoneering in Zion National Park is highly popular and one of the hardest permits to snag. A Utah man recently was convicted of running an illegal guiding service in the park's backcountry. NPS photo by Caitlin Ceci.

Despite being warned about running an illegal guiding service in Zion National Park, a Utah man continued to do just that. Last month he paid the price when he was convicted for doing so.

Zion Superintendent Jock Whitworth says Dennis Fisher, of Spanish Fork, Utah, pled guilty on August 17 in St. George Magistrate Court to conducting an illegal guiding service within the boundaries of the park. For several years, Mr. Fisher and his company, TPC Sports, had advertised illegal guided canyoneering trips in the park’s backcountry, according to the superintendent, who also said Mr. Fisher had been previously contacted by park rangers regarding his illegal operation.

An operation culminating in two undercover park rangers participating in one of Mr. Fisher’s trips through Mystery Canyon on July 25, 2009, led to the criminal charges. As a result of his conviction, Mr. Fisher was fined $1000 and banned from entering Zion National Park for two years, the superintendent said.

Permitted commercial operations are allowed for interpretive purposes on a limited number of Zion Canyon’s developed trails, but are not permitted through most of the park’s backcountry, including all canyoneering routes. A permit must be obtained prior to any commercial use of park trails. To obtain a commercial permit or for more information about commercial regulations in Zion National Park, call 435-772-7823 or visit the park's website:


What's the rationale for not allowing any guiding services in the park? The only reason I can think of is the liability of inexperienced people in places they shouldn't be. Are there others? I'm assuming so, but just can't think of them right now. Thanks in advance!

We're looking into that, Marshall. Stay tuned.

I just took a very quick look at Zion's management plan. There is a section on page 26 that explains their rationale, basically some folks think that permitted outfitting will increase overcrowding (it won't if they stipulate when and where guides can operate) and displace non-guided users (again, it won't if they stipulate when and where guides can operate). They also allude to managing the park as wilderness and that's great, but by itself that is not a reason to prohibit commercial guides from operating in the park.

Again, I spent about 30 seconds looking at the plan, but that is how it appears to me.


Currently, guided hiking or climbing activities in
the park are not permitted. NPS staff-led activities
include visitor center and evening programs,
and ranger-led hikes. Some visitors and guiding
organizations have requested that guided activities
be allowed in Zion, believing these operations
will enhance many visitors’ experience,
reduce potential impacts, and help prevent accidents.
Other people believe that guided activities
should not be permitted, arguing that these
operations will increase use in already overcrowded
areas and displace or impact
nonguided users. Many questions exist regarding
what guided services (e.g., guided hiking,
bicycling, climbing) are appropriate in the park.
Other questions relate to when and where the
services should take place and to what extent.

The wilderness management plan and carrying
capacity studies will determine whether or not
to permit guided activities in Zion. Permitting
guided services will have both positive and negative
impacts, as noted above.

Isn't the point the legality of the activity, rather than the rationale? I may or may not agree with policy, but the best way to change it is probably NOT to continue after "...previously contacted by park rangers regarding his illegal operation."
I would advise a further evaluation for the reasoning, but studies of anything for the Federal Government cost SO much, in these austere times.
Perhaps the imposed fine should have included an amount substantial enough to help offset such costs?

Canyoneering is probably a great outdoor activity and as one who has never done it I would absolutely want a guide. Isn't it better to go with Mr. Fisher than for someone inexperienced like myself to go into the backcountry alone and probably need some sort of rescue?

If Mr. Fisher got the permits it would still be illegal to guide someone?

The park policy, if I understand it correctly, sounds like the opposite of seat belt laws for autos and helmet laws for motorcycles.

The point of the article is certainly that this guy ran afoul of the law and - deservedly - has been punished. Since I don't think that alone would warrant much interesting discussion, why not pursue the begged question of why this policy exists at Zion?

It seems to me allowing qualified guides would do nothing but promote appreciation of the aspects of the parks many people would otherwise be afraid to ever explore. Capping the numbers and requiring a rigorous certification process would be at the discretion of the park and should be easy to implement. I'm really having trouble grasping the negatives.

I know whenever my wife and I explore a backcountry area, we usually hire guides the first time. This helps us get to know the area and leads to a more rewarding return trip when we're on our own.

There really aren't a whole lot of trails in Zion. I could understand the rationale is that it might get overcrowded if guide services started up.

The backcountry areas are indeed different. They've got a quota system and perhaps they're worried about guide services using up reservations that would otherwise go to individuals. I'd be surprised if this company went through the trouble of getting permits out of the quota given that they didn't have a permit to operate in the park.

I don't know if this had anything to do with the policy, but many years ago there was a guided hike done by the LDS church. They weren't prepare at all...down sleeping bags, they practiced canyoneering for the first time off bleachers, didn't have any anchors for their ropes...just tied them to trees. 2 of the 3 guides died in the first 1/2 mile of a few day trip. The teens they were guiding were near death before being rescued. The park was sued for a few million dollars (and the park lost) Maybe since canyoneering is so dangerous, even to those who are prepared, this policy was put in place to prevent things like this from happening.

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