Iron County contributed $100,000 to a multi-million dollar project that will replace the shuttle buses in Zion National Park with completely electric vehicles beginning this year in order to support economic growth and environmental protection in the park.
“The existing fleet has served us well for 21 years but has started to deteriorate with age and use,” said Jeff Bradybaugh, the park superintendent, in a news release on Feb. 3. “The new equipment consists of quiet, zero-emission buses that will help to further improve the visitor experience and demonstrate National Park Service leadership in environmental sustainability.”
26 buses and 27 charging stations will replace the current propane-powered buses. The new vehicles will arrive in the park periodically over the next several years, and the first phase of electric charging station installation has already been completed, according to the news release.
Maria Twitchell, executive director of the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau, said that the new shuttle system is necessary for economic development in the region and Iron County wants to be a part of that development.
“A good percentage of Iron County’s visitor economy is from national park visitors. It’s imperative we support actions that help keep the parks open and available to the traveling public and that their experience while in the parks is a positive one,” Twitchell said. “We also need to ensure that the parks are here for generations to come.”
Twitchell shared that Iron County and the tourism bureau especially are committed to helping preserve the natural environment in southern Utah. In addition to contributing money to projects such as this, the county assists their public land partners in educating people on “how to enjoy our parks and forests in a responsible manner.”
As a part of the project, Iron County’s $100,000 contribution was matched by multiple partners across the region, according to Twitchell. These partners include Washington County and the NPS Centennial Challenge Program.
The park will also receive a $33 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Park Service and the Zion National Park Forever Project, the park’s official non-profit partner, contributed to the project as well.
“This is great news for our state, the local tourism industry, and the millions who come from across the world to experience Zion National Park,” Rep. Chris Stewart, who represents southern Utah’s second congressional district, said in an official statement. “This has been years in the making and I am proud to have worked with local leaders to make this a reality.”
Southern Utah University works with the NPS to provide internships for SUU students at Zion National Park. In addition, SUU Outdoors and other on-campus groups organize trips to the park periodically throughout the year.
Zion National Park is currently the fourth most visited national park in the United States with 4.5 million visitors a year, and the shuttle system accomodated over 6 million passenger boardings in 2019, according to visitation records.
The Zion Canyon Transportation System began operating in 2000 with 30 propane-powered buses. To find more information about their transition to electric vehicles, read Zion National Park’s news release about the project.