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SAFETY RULES SLOW TRAFFIC THROUGH ZION THIS SEASON

If you're planning a jaunt through Zion Canyon this holiday weekend - or anytime this summer - chances are it will take you a little longer to get from Point A to Point B.

And if you're in a motor home, it may cost you $15 more than it did last year.National Park Service officials, beset with severe overcrowding in the park, have begun implementing a variety of traffic safety measures, including lowering the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph, and requiring motor homes and buses wider than 94 inches to be escorted through the tunnels - at a cost of $15 per vehicle.

"It's purely a safety factor. There are a good number above the 94-inch limit," said Larry Wiese, assistant park superintendent, "and some of them are well in excess."

Vehicles wider than 94 inches (most new buses are 102 inches wide) cannot stay in their lanes, said Wiese, adding there were 38 accidents and hundreds of broken car mirrors in the tunnels last year. A majority involved oncoming, wider-than-94-inch traffic - a problem that is getting worse.

Almost 2.2 million people visited the park last year, making Zion one of the most popular parks anywhere in the Western United States. And much of the increased visitation is coming via commercial tour buses and motor homes carrying more people than the traditional family sedan.

"Our primary concern is there are a lot more vehicles carrying a lot more people, and they all want to see the same things," said Wiese. "There are just so many people involved. On one hand, we must accommodate them; it is, after all, their park. But we are also charged with protecting the park and those who visit, and that creates a real dilemma."

Zion National Park has averaged a 7 percent growth rate over the past 10 years _ a growth rate that shows no signs of abating. Visitation is up 15 percent so far in 1989 over the same period last year.

The dilemma is magnified when officials must deal with parking facilities that were designed in the 1960s before the advent of tour buses and motor homes. In many cases, motor homes or buses cannot turn around in the established parking lots, forcing them to back into oncoming traffic.

Wiese said park officials have been studying the traffic problem in the park for some time, adding that even greater traffic restrictions could be in store later this summer.

"We've identified our short-term and our long-term needs," said Wiese. "We've finished the basic planning and the environmental studies. What we need now is funding."

Many of the measures the Park Service is considering target the motor homes and buses. One proposal would prohibit bus or motor home parking at Weeping Rock and Temple of Sinawava, forcing those visitors to see the park via a shuttle.

"We're hoping to keep the cost (of the shuttle) down to about a dollar," said Wiese. Park officials are hoping that a private concessionaire will provide the service, but no one knows yet if it will be profitable enough for private enterprise.

In connection with escorting over-sized vehicles in the tunnels, Wiese said full-time employees have been hired with the belief that the $15 per vehicle fee will cover the cost of providing the 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. service.

Park officials are looking at a variety of other options to handle the growing tourism. "Are we going to eliminate buses and motor homes? No," said Wiese. "We don't want to eliminate anyone."

But something has to be done to deal with the safety problem, he said.