Inholdings • Thousands of acres of privately owned land within park a continuing concern.
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Washington • An anonymous donor will front $825,000 to prevent development of a small but critical piece of private land inside Zion National Park.
The 30-acre parcel, at the base of the redrock Tabernacle Dome, will be turned over to the National Park Service. The donor worked with The Trust for Public Lands and the National Parks Conservation Association to acquire the property and ensure against potential home construction marring the picturesque view.
"The entire integrity of the area there is what ends up being protected," said Aly Baltrus, a spokeswoman for the park in southwestern Utah.
Conservationists and park officials worry that the nearly 3,400 privately owned acres inside Zion could lead to subdivisions sprouting inside one of the nation's busiest parks.
That fear was exacerbated by the recent construction of a mansion on private land inside the park just two miles north of the 30 acres the conservation groups have purchased.
Cory MacNulty, southwest program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the group had been searching for ways to buy the 30-acre spot because of its proximity to Tabernacle Dome and began discussions with a donor to buy the land from private owners who had been considering building a home there.
MacNulty said stories by The Salt Lake Tribune helped persuade the donor to finalize the agreement. The group then partnered with The Trust for Public Land to hold the property until it could be handed over to the park service.
Because funding has withered for a government program to buy so-called "inholdings" pre-existing, privately owned lands within national parks the park and private groups have turned to donations to acquire them.
Congress founded the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964 to help take action to preserve private lands that were sandwiched inside national parks as they were designated. But Congress has fully funded the program only once and, most recently, House Republicans attempted to slash the account to some $66 million, down from some $300 million in previous years.
While officials are excited to see the Tabernacle Dome view remain unspoiled, they also note that more work needs to be done to ensure against large, private mansions blocking the view for generations to come.
"There are lots of places to build large homes with great views, but national parks like Zion aren't one of them," said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land.