Zion National Park draws thousands of visitors each year with its sharp cliffs, flowing rivers and waterfalls, and stunning natural beauty. It’s wonderful that so many people have the opportunity to fully appreciate this amazing piece of the American west. However, with people visiting at all times, it can be hard to maintain such a pristine environment. So, what can you as a visitor do to ensure that future generations get to see Zion National Park in all of its glory?
In visiting most National Parks (and really any type of natural environment), a good rule to keep in mind is to “leave no trace”. Leave No Trace is a common principle followed in camping and hiking. It maintains that one should leave the environment exactly how they found it to the best of their ability.
Obviously, it’s fine to snap a twig while walking, make a fire where permitted, or walk on the marked trails. When one leaves the area however, it is important to scour the area for human trace and to remove it. Below are some ways that you can “leave no trace” and minimize your impact at Zion National Park.
First and foremost, pick up all trash and do not litter. Not only is litter extremely unsightly amidst the natural beauty, but different types of waste are damaging to enormous swaths of the ecosystem. Litter such as mismanaged cigarette butts contaminate the waterways and are toxic to aquatic life.
Plastics are damaging to land and sea animals, as the animals can become fatally tangled in the plastic or eat it and die from the damage. It’s not worth it to leave trash on the trail or on the ground. So, make sure that you take trash to the nearest trash can or recycling bin. It’s a good idea to keep a plastic bag in your backpack for any trash you may have. And who knows, you may come across the trash of others.
Remain On Trails
Be sure to stay on the trail! Zion National Park’s trails were designed so that visitors can see all of the park’s majesty from an environmentally unobtrusive area. When one visitor goes off the trail, they are:
- Trampling potentially important plants
- Disturbing animals, and
- Risking their personal wellbeing
When many visitors go off the trail, they create an area that is now unfit for animals to live in and plants to grow. This creates needless fragmentation in the ecosystem.
Vulnerable fertile soil can also be damaged irreparably by foot traffic, which makes it impossible for plants to grow in the area. The views are best from on the trail anyways, they were built how they were for a reason. Generally, the trail will be pretty clearly marked, and there will be numerous signs to remind visitors not to leave the trail. This rule also applies when ascending and descending a cliff or walking along a river. There will be a clearly marked path to get there.
No vandalism should be a no-brainer, but sometimes visitors just want to leave their tiny mark on the landscape. The problem is that when everybody wants to leave a tiny mark, the collection of vandalism is no longer tiny by any means. When visiting the national park, please be sure not to scratch rocks or trees with a knife, mark anything with a pen or marker, or perform any other sort of vandalism.
Vandalism isn’t just a marker or knife either, arranging rocks, destroying plants, and wiping mud in places. It is also a mess that requires the expenditure of immense park resources every year to clean. Remember to leave no trace! Additionally, don’t mark informational signs or road signs. These types of signs can be expensive to replace or repair, and damaging informational signs might obscure interesting notes about the landscape or ecosystem; It may not be part of the natural world, but it is part of a park that was set aside for all people to enjoy.
Respect the Wildlife
Utah has extraordinary wildlife, including animals. As a visitor you must admire them from afar however. It’s extremely harmful to the general health and future behavioral patterns of animals to be fed by humans. For one, any animal is part of a complex, but cemented food web. Animals in the wild tend to have a very specific diet. Being fed human food could hurt them, as their bodies are not used to the food that we eat.
Some foods that we eat regularly can be extremely toxic, and even deadly to some animals, such as how chocolate is fatal for dogs to ingest. Feeding animals also increases the reliance that animals have on human visitors. In the wild, getting food is hard work, so animals will alter their behavior in any way to make eating more efficient. They don’t think about ecosystem fragility. So, feeding animals can result in dependency upon humans, which throws the local food web into extreme disarray.
In addition, feeding wild animals can make them more comfortable with humans, which is usually not a good thing. Utah is home to a wide variety of sometimes dangerous species. Though plant-eaters, deer and elk can easily hurt humans with their swift charge and large antlers. Big-horned sheep should always be viewed from a safe distance, as they have enormous horns on their head (hence the name).
Black bears are also frequently seen in the park. Though not as dangerous as a grizzly, these bears are still very large and very skittish. Visitors should maintain an extremely safe distance with these animals. Humans feeding these animals will only draw them closer to trails and potentially introduce more unsafe situations.
Minimizing Your Impact to the Environment
Zion National Park is truly a great treasure, and it’s up to us to keep it that way. If visitors follow these simple procedures, and remember to always strive to leave no trace, we can all keep the beautiful Utah wilderness pristine for many generations of future visitors.