SALT LAKE CITY — Jeff Bradybaugh says there is nothing static about the visitor experience at Zion National Park, where its 2,000-foot cliffs inspire awe and its narrow canyons hug curious adventurers.

"It's an incredible landscape. What I always tell people is I feel the Zion embrace. When you get into some of these narrow canyons, it is almost like the landscape is enveloping you," he said."When you are visiting Zion, you are not necessarily looking down into the canyon, you are in the canyon, part of the landscape."

Bradybaugh should know. He's worked at the park nearly nine years and been its superintendent for 2 ½ years.

Over that time, he has seen the effects of skyrocketing visitation and flat or declining federal funding. It's not been a good combination for the park.

To help address the $60 million backlog in unfunded repairs and improvements at Zion, the Zion National History Association — long a nonprofit partner of the park — reinvented itself as the Zion Natl Park Forever Project.

Its founders and backers say the stewardship efforts aim to be a model for the rest of the country by identifying specific park needs and promoting community "engagement" through fundraising, in-kind donations or volunteer work.

"This is a great opportunity for our park and our partners, not just here in our area but around the state for some friend building and fundraising," Bradybaugh said.

The launch of the Zion Natl Park Forever Project happened Thursday night at the Red Butte Garden in a private gala.

Supporters are trying to stoke enthusiasm — and cash — to help pay for a variety of projects.

"We want to really engage our gateway communities and Salt Lake City is an essential part of that," said Mark Preiss, director of the Zion Forever project.

The park, just shy of 147,000 acres, is Utah's most visited national park out of the Mighty Five, drawing 4.3 million visitors in 2016. So far this year, it is on tap to break that record — and in fact visitation is up 60 percent since 2010.

Preiss said the park struggles under the weight of the attention.

"We can’t ensure the integrity of the Zion experience with that trajectory moving forward," he said. "We looked at that and said, 'Let's roll up our sleeves and look at the pioneer heritage, which is who we are as Utahns, and address that challenge."

The Zion National History Association, which is more than eight decades old, was reborn as the Zion Natl Park Forever Project.

Working with Bradybaugh and other park officials, the project produced a field guide identifying 28 projects and their cost for an initial launch of improvements in 2018.

Among them:

• Producing a new Zion's park film to replace the current one shown to visitors that is 17 years old. Cost: $180,400

• Rehabilitation of the Grotto Trail, including rerouting one section and paving a stretch to provide Americans with Disabilities Act access. Cost: $292,348

• Finding buried archaeological sites with remote sensing within a 4-acre area first researched in the 1930s. Cost: $37,500

• Expansion of the Junior Ranger program to broaden its reach from 33,000 youth participants to 50,000 children who visit Zion and its sister monuments, Cedar Breaks and Pipe Springs

Overall, the projects' costs total $3 million.

Prioritizing and identifying them takes a bit of the "mystery" out of the park's needs, Preiss said.

"It allows us to bring some transparency and accountability to the process as well."

Preiss said the project is about tapping national and Utah sentiment about treasured landscapes like those at Zion National Park.

"Zion is not only a sacred place, but when you think about what it encompasses and what it holds as far as its natural and cultural resources, it is one of the most important and sacred places on the planet," he said. "Whatever our reason for coming, Zion is a place that speaks to us in a profound way.

"It is not an accident that we have 4.3 million visitors a year."