New mountain bike trail opens, offering 'magnificent views' outside Zion's east side

Pitt Grewe, the director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, cuts a ribbon during a ceremony Wednesday, signaling the opening of the first 10-mile segment of bike trails in Kane County just outside of Zion National Park.

Pitt Grewe, the director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, cuts a ribbon during a ceremony Wednesday, signaling the opening of the first 10-mile segment of bike trails in Kane County just outside of Zion National Park. (Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development)



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ORDERVILLE, Kane County — The first 10 miles of a new mountain bike trail system near the east entrance of Zion National Park is now open but many more miles are yet to come.

A ceremonial ribbon was cut Wednesday, by representatives from state and local entities, as well as the Zion National Park superintendent, to officially open the first leg of what will be more than 30 miles of bike trails outside of the park's east entrance in Kane County. The event happened as a part of the Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit, which was held in Kanab this week. Attendees celebrated the opening with a bike ride in the area.

The new bike trail is one of the many features planned for the east entrance of the national park in the coming years to help address overcrowding. It aims to spread visitors to lesser-traveled parts of the park. The trail comes as National Park Service data show more than an estimated 4 million visitors have visited the park already this year, through September, which puts it on pace to shatter its visitation record of over 4.5 million set in 2017.

Mountain biking, of course, is not allowed inside the park.

The land for the 10 miles of the mountain bike trails that opened Wednesday was donated by two local families: the McLaws and Neeleman families; the latter is the owner of the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, which is located in Kane County between the park's eastern boundaries and the town of Orderville.

The trailhead is located about a quarter-mile onto North Fork Country Road, which is the last road before heading into the Zion National Park's east entrance on state Route 9 or first road exiting, depending on where you're coming from. The trails are public, even though it cuts through private land as a result of the land easements, according to Zachary Almaguer, the spokesman for the Zion Forever Project.

"While the trails do negotiate and navigate the borders of the park and don't directly enter, they do offer bikers and visitors some of the first (public access) ... into some magnificent views into Zion's east side that otherwise would have otherwise gone completely unseen," he said.

The 10 miles is just the first phase for a plan that calls for about 34.5 miles of bike trails on private and public land adjacent to the national park. The final 24.5 miles is expected to be constructed in the near future as it is already funded as a result of grants and donations from the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, the National Park Foundation and various private donors, such as Zion Cycles by the Zion National Park's more prominent western entrance in Springdale, Washington County.

The Office of Outdoor Recreation, a wing of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, provided a $500,000 grant earlier this year to complete the $2.1 million needed in funding for the second phase of bike trails.

This map shows the outline for the 34.5 miles of bike trails and over 40 miles of hiking trails planned for the eastern entrance into Zion National Park.
This map shows the outline for the 34.5 miles of bike trails and over 40 miles of hiking trails planned for the eastern entrance into Zion National Park. (Photo: Kane County Utah Office of Tourism and Film Commission,)

Another 40 miles of hiking trails are also planned for the east. Some of the hiking trails, unlike the bike trails, will include access into Zion National Park, once completed.

The growing East Zion

The East Zion master plan also features a visitors center, a housing subdivision and new lodging options located outside of the park's east entrance.

Also on Wednesday, Kane County Commissioner Brent Chamberlain said that the funds have been secured for a new East Zion Visitors Center for the east entrance. Almaguer said the plan is to break ground on the project either by the end of the year or at the start of 2022.

The visitor center, once completed, will be run by Zion National Park staff and feature park service ranger and other education programs, even though it's located just outside of the park boundaries. The area will also provide agriculture learning opportunities, according to Almaguer.

The Utah Clean Cities Coalition also demonstrated its new EVZion pilot project for the first time Wednesday. The electric shuttle program, which is set to officially begin in a couple of weeks, will run between Kanab and Zion National Park. It's a program that's expected to also reach other regional areas like Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon national parks in the future, Almaguer said.

"For us, that's what makes East Zion so amazing. It really has been a true collaboration of public and private but also federal, local, state and county (agencies)," he said. "Now, to have real traction for the funding on the building itself, and on the first accessible recreation opportunities to give people a sense of place on the east side, rather than this just 'where do I go?' (location). We're just excited to see this come to fruition."

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