SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A sprawling network of camping resorts soon could begin unfolding in the Kolob highlands on Zion National Park’s northern boundary, potentially resulting in an influx of overnight use in a remote and scenic part of southern Utah.
Late last year, Ian Crowe, a St. George real estate broker, filed applications with Washington County officials to develop up to nearly 3,000 camping sites, including yurts, tents, vintage trailers, shipping containers, even treehouses, near Kolob Reservoir and the park’s Lava Point, about 25 miles up the winding Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin.
But the project was largely kept under wraps until about a month ago, when a Kolob property owner named Justin Heideman saw a small notice posted by a road, announcing a May 12 hearing before the Washington County Planning Commission.
“Everyone feels this is pretty sneaky in the way it was done,” said Heideman, a St. George lawyer who had been hunting turkeys near his family’s property at Kolob Reservoir when he saw the sign about the hearing.
Heideman notified other property owners and helped launch a Facebook group called Preserve Kolob Mountain, which in turn alerted the National Park Service and the Washington County Water Conservancy District to the project for the first time.
Crowe’s filings in support of the 1,200-acre Above Zion resort and three other smaller resorts indicate their purpose is to relieve pressure on Utah’s most popular national park by providing campsites, which would be supplied with millions of gallons of culinary water from the district.
But park and water district officials were unaware of the proposal and have since raised numerous concerns, according to Heideman.
For about the past century, Kolob Mountain has been used mostly for ranching with about 270 seasonal homesites scattered around the juniper-covered draws above the famed Narrows of the Virgin River. At 8,000 feet in elevation, the Kolob area is snowbound in winter and inaccessible, but the summer population can reach as high as 800 on busy days, according to the county’s general plan.
The lack of easy access and utilities has prevented the area from becoming another dense subdivision like Duck Creek, several miles to the north on State Road 14.
A dam on Kolob Creek, built in 1956, formed Kolob Reservoir, a favorite fishing and camping destination for residents of Cedar City, Hurricane and other nearby communities.
The resort proposal hopes to make this landscape available for more people to enjoy its natural wonders and serene views, according to Bruce Baird, a Salt Lake City lawyer for Crowe’s Zions Gate Management Co.
“The public spaces such as Zion and Bryce (Canyon) and the other national and state parks are just being smashed with overcrowding,” said Baird, one of Utah’s most prominent land-use lawyers. “The theory is to provide a place under controlled and appropriate circumstances where people can appreciate the lovely…