Zion Forever Project kicks off new century of park projects

ST. GEORGE — The Zion National Park Forever Project – the official nonprofit partner of Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Pipe Spring National Monument – held their annual Field Guide Awards at the SpringHill Suites in Springdale Wednesday morning.

Zion Forever Project director Mark Preiss signs the 2020 Field Guide at the annual Field Guide Awards held at SpringHill Suites in Springdale, Utah, Feb. 19, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The day was touted by Lyman Hafen, executive director of the Zion Forever Project, as a celebration of what many public and private partners are doing to help maintain Zion and its surrounding areas.

The Southern Utah native spoke of Zion’s inspiring skyline and what it has meant to him throughout his life.

“It just touches me so deeply.” Hafen said, adding that he never tires of the view as he drives to work each day. It is a view and experience that park officials, Zion Forever staff and others hope to preserve for generations to come.

The distant peaks of Zion can be seen from the vantage point of Donlee Drive above St. George, Utah on December 2, 2019. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

As Zion moves into its second century as a national park, continued stewardship, both from large businesses as well as the efforts of anyone who loves the park, will be crucial to preserving Zion’s natural beauty, resources and visitor experiences.

Zion Forever Project director Mark Preiss said in his remarks that the work of preserving Zion and the greater Zion area is God’s work – however one interprets what that means to them – and that it is the work of making sure that everyone, regardless of their background, has access to these parks.

To that end, the Forever Project awarded funds to 21 critical park projects outlined in the 2020 Field Guide.

“Today is the greatest day, it is the best day of the year for the Zion Forever Project because we get to announce our funding for top priority park projects,” Kacey Jones, assistant director of philanthropy for Zion Forever, said.

Approximately $1.4 million worth of funding was gifted to projects in three different categories or pillars: Improving Today, Informing Tomorrow and Protecting Forever.

Funded projects ranged from park repairs, real-time data collection, educational programs and park biology projects to capitol projects like the construction of a new visitor contact station at Cedar Breaks and the East Zion Initiative.

While each project is important to the future of the area, one of the highlights included the first funding the organization has given to a search and rescue project, Jones said.

The project will help construct two climbing/rappel towers connected by a bridge near the park’s emergency operations center, which will be used to safely train first responders in advance rescue techniques.

As each project was funded, champions of each project as well as important donors were invited to stamp and sign the field guide as part of the ceremony.

This file photo shows an initial concept of the new Cedar Breaks Visitor Information and Education Facility | Image courtesy of the Zion National Park Forever Project, St. George News

Perhaps one of the most excited recipients of funding was Cedar Breaks National Monument superintendent Kathleen Gonder, who said that stamping the field guide was almost as exciting as receiving a giant check.

Cedar Breaks National Monument was gifted $500,000 to go toward the construction of a new visitor station.

The station will replace the current facility – a 650-square-foot cabin – as the new point of contact for visitors.

The building will include an information area, exhibits and a bookstore facility for the Zion Forever Project, Gonder said. Construction will also include new restroom facilities and a covered patio area where guests can shelter from inclement weather or enjoy programs and activities held during Cedar Breaks events such as the Wildflower Festival and star parties.

The inside space of the new facility, including restrooms, will be about 2,300 square feet and the covered patio/breezeway will be about 1,300 square feet, Gonder said.

The existing cabin will remain in place and be converted for use as an interpretive area that will house additional park exhibits, Gonder said.

“The visitor center itself will be such a strong sense of place,” Gonder said. “It (will) anchor the monument.”

Gonder hopes that with the new contact station, visitors will stay longer, learn more and have a more enjoyable time rather than just rush from pull-out to pull-out. She also hopes it will help improve staff satisfaction by creating nicer facilities for them to work in.

If all goes well, Gonder hopes to have shovels in the ground in 2021 and open doors to the new contact station by 2023.

“It’s going to be so nice, I’m so excited,” Gonder said.

In addition to the 21 funded projects, Zion Forever announced the new in-park visitor film, which will replace the 20-year-old park orientation film. The new film will debut this spring in the Zion Human History Museum and will tell the story of Zion through the voices of the many keepers and characters who have been part of the park.

Founded about three years ago, the Zion National Park Forever Project’s mission is as follows:

The Zion National Park Forever Project engages in collaborative efforts with federal agencies, gateway communities, and guests to create connections to the Greater Zion Landscape that will lead to lifelong stewardship. By establishing business and agency partnerships, encouraging collaborative innovation, expanding educational opportunities, funding tangible projects, and leveraging resources, the Zion Forever Project is building the next generation of leaders and stewards.

As the nonprofit was created and continues to grow, the organization has formed integral partnerships with private businesses and public agencies alike in an effort to raise key funds and awareness of the park’s needs.

One such partnership, or “friend of the park,” as park superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh calls them or “keeper of the sanctuary” as the Zion Forever Project calls them, is Stephen Wade, owner of Stephen Wade Auto Group, who has been involved with the nonprofit organization since its inception.

Staff and supporters of the Zion National Park Forever Project gather at the annual Field Guide Awards held at the SpringHill Suites in Springdale, Utah, Feb. 19, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Wade said he and a few others were approached early on and asked if they would be involved in helping the park raise $5 million dollars.

“It is a great thing when you see the public and the private work together to try and fund something,” Wade said, adding praises for the ongoing efforts of Bradybaugh, Hafen and Preiss in preserving the greater Zion landscape.

“When you look up and see that skyline, that vista, those peaks, your heart jumps,” Wade said. “I think all of us need to appreciate what we have here.”

To date, the Zion Forever Project has funded nearly $4 million dollars worth of projects, an accomplishment that Preiss said makes him feel very proud of the community and grateful for all the foundation’s partners and those who have contributed to Zion.

“We’re all caretakers to some of the most important natural and cultural resources on the planet,” Preiss said.

For more information on the Zion National Park Forever Project and how to become involved in ongoing funding efforts, visit their website.

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