The word “Zion” means a peaceful paradise — and for the past two years, Zion National Park has lived up to its name. Two summers ago, the famed Utah destination became the first national park in the continental U.S. to ban automobiles during peak visitor season. The resulting changes have been dramatic: fresh air, peace and quiet, the sounds of nature, and the return of wildlife. Before the ban, 2,000-odd cars and tour buses competed every day for just 400 parking spaces; now, three dozen eco-friendly propane buses drop off visitors at eight different trailheads in the park. It cost more than $29 million to make the park car-free, but everyone seems to agree the money was worth it. Visitors say it’s less hassle, more vacation; local entrepreneurs say shuttle stops in town have boosted business; area residents benefit because they can take the shuttles for free; and the environment benefits from the drastically reduced impact of 2.5 million annual visitors. All these good vibes — plus visitor numbers to the park have increased by more than 20 percent.
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