Zion National Park extends shuttle service after surge in visitors causes canyon closure

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SPRINGDALE, Utah - Zion National Park is extending their shuttle service for the next two weeks, and the move comes after a surge of visitors to the park shut the canyon down earlier this week.

Visitation numbers show that so far in 2015, there have been 400,000 more visitors to Zion National Park compared to the same time last year. Increased attendance forced an early shuttle opening in the spring as well. Park spokesperson Aly Baltrus said it’s a trend they weren’t prepared for.

“Historically, we have never gone past the first Sunday in October, as far as running those shuttles,” Baltrus said. “But anyone that came here on Monday, it was really chaotic, way more people than we could handle up canyon.”

Baltrus said visitors quickly filled the 400 parking spots in the upper part of the canyon. Cars started parking in roadside pull outs, and eventually alongside the road, leaving little room for traffic.

“It got to where people were parking so that we couldn’t even get an ambulance through,” Baltrus said. “So we ended up shutting down at 10 o’clock in the morning.”

Park supervisors extended the contract for the shuttle company until November 8, at a cost of roughly $45,000. The shuttle will also run on weekends through November, and over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The influx of visitors is also catching some folks off guard, those who were hoping to find a little more solitude in the wilderness.

“It’s busy everywhere we’ve been,” said visitor Ashley Cole. “A couple places we made reservations, we were glad we made them, because they’re full.”

Baltrus said next year administrators plan to look at different ways to better manage the growing number of visitors to the park, that could include changes to trails, or timed entrances.

“Right now it’s just us trying to figure out how to better move people,” Baltrus said. “What can we do to mitigate some of those? Make it so people have a great experience.”

Overcrowding in the park has also had other impacts to park infrastructure, including wear on trails, roads and facilities.