To reach the start of the Zion Narrows Trail, a 16-mile-long route that enters Zion National Park through a slender rift in the Earth carved by the Virgin River, you need to cross a ranch. While developers were eyeing that ranch for plots of homes, the Trust For Public Land has purchased it to preserve it as is.
At times running throught a slot canyon 2,000 feet deep and only 20 feet wide, the Zion Narrows is one of the iconic hikes on the Colorado Plateau, if not the entire West. But to reach the trailhead, you've had to cross the Chamberlain Ranch to the east of the national park.
Erik Weihenmayer, the famed blind adventurer who led a hike of the Zion Narrows as part of the effort to save the trailhead, said, "The Narrows is easily one of the best, if not the best, hike I've ever been on. It is an amazingly unique and dramatic environment, changing with every turn and different with every season. At one point, thigh deep in cold rushing water, I reached my trekking poles out to each side and felt smooth overhanging canyon walls which went up 3,000 feet on each side and blocked out the sun. It was such a privilege to be part of this project to help more people get to experience it. Now that a blind guy has braved it, there are no excuses."
The 258-acre Chamberlain Ranch, two miles east of Zion National Park, is the main route into the Zion Narrows. Developers planned to subdivide it into smaller home sites, but The Trust for Public Land paid $1.41 million to buy development rights, meaning no subdivision will occur.
"Our mission is to provide access to the outdoors for all Americans, and making sure hikers can get to one of the most spectacular trails in Red Rock country is a great example of that," said Will Rogers, president of the Trust. "It was a team effort by Erik and all our partners. Now people who want to visit the Zion Narrows won't have to go through a subdivision to get there."
Five years ago, developers won approval to break the ranch into smaller "ranchettes," but the recession halted the effort and the property faced foreclosure. The landowner and the State Bank of Southern Utah agreed to sell development rights.
The purchase was paid for with money from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service's Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the state of Utah, the New Venture Fund, and the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation Non-Motorized Trail Matching Fund Program.
Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Working from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.