A press release reported that the Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan was completed, and the National Park Service Intermountain regional director signed the Finding of the No Significant Impact documents, Thursday.
“The management and monitoring strategies found in the plan are designed to protect and enhance the rivers’ free-flowing condition, water quality, and other values that qualify these river segments for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System,” the release reported.
National Parks Service Denver Service Center project Manager Tracy Atkins, said she believes the new plan will do a good job of protecting the natural resources of the Virgin River both inside and outside of the Zion National Park territory.
She said that only 144 miles of the protected wild and scenic rivers was located within the parks perimeters, and since the other 19 miles resided within the jurisdiction of the BLM, they worked very closely together to create a management plan that would align with the needs and missions of both entities.
“I have many compliments to the staff of Zion,” Atkins said. “And the BLM, St. George field office staff – everybody was extremely supportive of us.”
Dawna Ferris, BLM national conservation area manager for Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area said the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act designated portions of the Virgin River were as “Wild and Scenic” territories.
“Zion National Park and our office have worked since 2009 to complete a management plan,” Ferris said. “That plan was only completed like three or four months ago, so right now we are just implementing that plan.”
Ferris said the BLM and Zion National Park began working together as soon as the funding was available for them to develop one. She said the first thing the agencies did was establish a team of resource specialists to help establish the remarkable resources that are worth protecting in and around the river.
Atkins said there were various consultants brought in to help – from hydrologist to fish experts. She said they helped to ascertain the best way to move forward towards maintaining the recreational aspects of the Virgin River waterways that exist within Zion National Park, while still considering the long-term ecological impacts of its usage and working to protect the environment.
“Part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act said that we have to establish what the, ‘outstandingly remarkable value’ is,” Atikins said. “That is something that is so significant to a regional or a national level that we should protect it.”
Atkins said that one of the biggest challenges she faced when working to develop the management plan for the Zion National Park region was considering all of the visitors to the park each year and working to protecting the river without detracting from their experience.
“This project was balancing all of the people that want to come and see this amazing place with protecting what they want to come see,” she said.
Zion National Park division chief for natural and cultural resources Fred Armstrong said that alterations made years ago to park rivers changed the way certain ecosystems within the park behave. He said that the designation of National Wild and Scenic River System would help to restore the rivers back to their natural state as much as possible.
He said it was important to find ways to harmonize the existing infrastructure with the ability to maximize the parks potential and enhance the visits of millions of tourists who come from around the world to visit Zion National Park every year.
Armstrong said he is confident that the established plan will provide the needed foundation to conserve the natural resources the park has to offer, without detracting from what already exists within the park.
Atkins said the many long hours that went into preparing the management plan were well worth the investment. In addition to helping to protect and conserve one of our nations most visited parks, she said she and her husband found a new favorite place to visit, and they plan frequent trips to spend time in the Southern Utah wilderness.
“It feels really good to have this completed and know that the park and the BLM have a really good basis for moving forward with the implementation of this plan to protect an amazing resource,” Atkins said.