Zion National Park is in recovery mode after thunderstorms unleashed over an inch of rain on it and the surrounding area on June 30, triggering a flash flood that left parts of the park and its gateway community damaged and strewn with debris, with no timetable for their reopening.
Photos and videos of the event showed muddy water sloshing against business doors, broken asphalt, and large amounts of detritus riddling the park. Recovery efforts to stabilize the region began immediately after the flooding but, officials say, the road to fixing the damage appears to be lengthy.
In a recent interview, Zion Public Information Officer Amanda J.D.. Rowland said that the worst damage to the park occurred at the south entrance.
“There was a mudslide that hit that area the hardest…we’re varying how many lanes are open at a time to [continue to] assess that damage,” Rowland said. The popular Watchman Trail is closed indefinitely, and the park’s normally-crowded RV lot is only partially open after the flood damaged asphalt and dislodge sand and rocks from underneath it. The park’s shuttles are still running, and unaffected portions of the park will remain open while cleanup continues.
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Outside of park boundaries, local businesses that cater to visitors suffered severe damage. In the neighboring town of Springdale, the Zion Canyon Campground’s Quality Inn was reported to be a total loss ,though the owners hope to have campsites open by this weekend. Hoodoo General Store is currently closed due to extensive damage that occured after 4 feet of water entered the building.
Cable Mountain Lodge, and the Zion Campfire Lodge also experienced catastrophic damage from the flooding. According to Stewart Ferber, owner of the Zion Campfire Lodge, 42 rooms are completely destroyed. Additionally, the campground is expected to require a substantial amount of cleanup before appearing normal again.
Officials and business owners have not yet arrived at a dollar amount for the damage to the park and the surrounding area, but it’s clear that recovery will be a long road.
Monsoon season, characterized by heavy afternoon thunderstorms, typically runs from July to September in Utah. While flash flooding can occur for a number of reasons, it happens most often when a thunderstorm moves slowly across a small region, sending walls of water downstream on local creeks and rivers. Since desert sand can only absorb a limited amount of water, regions like southern Utah are particularly prone to flooding. Even on clear days, rain higher up in the watershed can send dangerous flash floods towards unprepared hikers in canyon country.
While flooding isn’t uncommon in Zion, long-time locals reported that this was one of the worst flash floods, in terms of severity, to hit the town of Springdale in more than 30 years. In 2016, another flash flood killed 13 people in and around the nearby town of Hilldale.
“We’re still in it. We need to analyze where the flows went and why,” says Rowland. “We did have a state hazard geologist out, and we were out in the field with our physical scientists, and a variety of engineers,” who are working to determine why this particular flood caused so much damage.
“It’s going to take a while because some of the debris we’re removing are rocks the size of cars,” Rowland said. “We really need to know what happened. We know that these floods could happen again.”