Rendering © Overland Partners
Zion and Other National Parks Expected to Expand as Outdoor Experiences Soar After COVID-19
Lace up your hiking shoes, grab your water bottle and head to your favorite park! Tomorrow, Saturday, June 4, marks the 30th anniversary of National Trails Day, an event created by the American Hiking Society to promote discovery, education and stewardship at nearby parks. As Saturday approaches, Friends of Government Canyon will host hiking and native plant events in San Antonio, and Texas Parks & Wildlife has several parks featuring special events to commemorate the day.
Since COVID restrictions were lifted in 2021, visits to national parks have surged, increasing by 10 to nearly 30 percent (cnn.com), demonstrating the desire we have to connect with the natural world and each other through shared outdoor experiences. While communities and counties seek to explore and enjoy these special natural spaces, the need to expand the scope of our National Parks has become evident. One such example is Zion National Park, Utah’s first national park, and number ten of the most visited national parks in the U.S. (nps.gov), hosting five million visitors a year. With nearly 150,00 acres and diverse terrain—red rock desert, towering forests and spectacular vistas—outdoor enthusiasts clamor to visit Zion.
The west entrance to Zion, in the town of Springdale, provides the gateway for 80 percent of the visitors to the park. Its stunning plateau prairie landscape hosts a lodge that tucks overnight visitors into a private retreat. Expansive views, sandstone peaks, starlit skies and a roaming heard of bison on a 300-acre preserve are part of the attraction.
Overland was engaged to create The East Gateway—an alternate point to the park that is designed to take pressure off the west entrance and rethink how to create an authentic gateway experience to a National Park that is memorable and prioritizes conservation. The East Gateway will include a new Visitor Center, café, restrooms and full-service National Park lodge, and be a launch point to the vast trail system within the park.
As visitors near the east entrance, they will encounter Applecross Station, where a roundabout will slow and organize vehicular traffic, and offer ample tree-shaded parking. Shuttle service will transport guests to the nearby Visitor Center, centrally located to the hub of activity at Applecross.
Overland, known for connecting architecture to the surrounding landscape, is incorporating materials into the designs that reflect the natural colors and textures found throughout Zion’s east gateway. Locally quarried sandy sandstone, beetle-killed wood, and weathered steel compose the building envelopes. The pale yellows and sage green colors of native grasses around the buildings are accentuated with brightly colored flowering native plants in the courtyards. The geologic formations of the site, the hills and the canyon, define the visitor center site and are the backdrop for the architecture.
Introducing visitors to Zion National Park, the purpose of Apple Cross Station is to be a starting off point to educate visitors about the historical, cultural and environmental significance of the place and make the most of the time in the park. A covered gateway leads to outdoor information stations with maps, trail descriptions and details for visitors planning their excursions. The exterior of the center blends beautifully into the landscape with its stone finish from the nearby Zion Mountain Ranch Quarry. Awe-inspiring views and peaceful places to sit both inside and outdoors encourage visitors to linger while waiting for shuttles. Apple Cross Station’s Visitor Center and surrounding buildings offer protection from the elements while relying mostly on passive strategies, only supplemented by very efficient mechanical systems. Sustainability informed the entire project, from the site plan and building materials, to the water and energy conservation strategies.
Outdoor amenities include spaces designed to provide options for thermal comfort appropriate for all seasons. Deep shaded porches and tree covered places provide cooler spots to enjoy during the summer while siting structures to capture prevailing breezes offer natural ventilation and cooling. Sunny areas are exposed in the winter, allowing visitors a place to enjoy the warm sunshine, and a communal outdoor fire pit will be enjoyed during cold nights. A water channel will run through the Visitor Center site and will transport clean water from a treatment plant to the agricultural fields to irrigate crops that will be consumed at the on-site restaurant.
Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the Café, a free-standing restaurant offering patio dining and a menu curated to local harvests from the organic gardens and greenhouses. An inviting courtyard with an herb-infused water filling station, orchards, natural gardens and walking paths connect to trailheads. The nearby restrooms building boasts a green roof that aids in natural insulation and adds to the outward aesthetic.
The new East Gateway connects visitors to the land and culture, creating experiences that celebrate the natural beauty and ecology of the park. Overland’s sensitive approach to protect the valued natural assets of East Zion starting with the visitor amenities and eventually lodging, will be carried throughout the design and construction process. A grand lodge, planned for the future, will be tucked into the surrounding cliffs with views into the park.
This project is fully funded; anticipated construction is slated to begin Fall 2022.