Jessica: Zion National Park in Utah is known for its breathtaking mountain scenes, winding hiking trails and narrow canyon climbs. It is a place to escape from the outside world. But popping up in this pristine landscape are these human habitats.
Russell: Well, they don’t belong inside a park like this. If you wanted to see that kind of stuff, we can stay home.
Jessica: Hank and Mari Angela Landau built this vacation rental home on private land located inside Utah’s Zion National Park.
Hank Landau: It’s really, pretty incredible to be living in a place that’s surrounded by this beauty; that is unplugged from, if you will, the matrix of life.
Jessica: With a front yard overlooking the park’s iconic Tabernacle Dome, it is hard to blame them for wanting to live here.
Mari Angela Landau: We’ve both been hurt by some of the things that have been said that have been disparaging about us being here and us having no right to be here.
Jessica: There are nearly twelve thousand pieces of private land inside our national parks. From Yosemite to Yellowstone, many have homes either built, or being built, on them.
The land was owned before the national parks existed, or it ended up inside the protected land as the parks expanded.
Jessica: Will Rogers runs the Trust for Public Land.
Will Rogers: It’s a really big deal. It’s like putting a fast food chain in the middle of the national mall. And I think you can see an example of that right up the road.
Jessica: He is talking about this, what critics call a ‘McMansion,’ being built on a bluff overlooking a valley in Zion. Julie Hamilton was shocked to see the structure while out hiking.
Julie Hamilton: All of a sudden there’s this big house up on the hill. It’s like, are they going to build more? What’s happening here?
Jessica: What is happening is budget cuts.
In the 1960s, congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund. About $900 million a year, funded with fees energy companies pay the government to be allowed to drill offshore.
Historically, that money has been used to buy up private lands in national parks when landowners decide to sell. But two thirds of the oil money is now being spent by congress on other programs. That is leaving the parks unable to compete with wealthy buyers looking to purchase property.
Will: And there are more and more people with the means to have two and three and four homes. And even if they’re only using them for a few weeks a year, they like to have them in iconic landscapes.
Jessica: Yet some members of congress are blaming the park service for spending money to expand park boundaries rather than buying up the land that is within those boundaries.
Only about three percent of national park land is privately owned but there is concern that the private land will be divided up into neighborhoods right in the park.
Robert Redford: Once you start something, it’s kind of hard to bring it back.
Jessica: Actor Robert Redford is a longtime supporter of national park preservation, ever since filming his famous movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Zion back in the 1960s. Redford is worried the government is no longer willing to spend what it will take to protect the parks from more development.
Robert Redford: The national parks here in this country are some of the greatest places on earth. Let’s at least leave something for our future generations so they don’t have to see this either on a film or in photos. They can see it with their own eyes.
Jessica: Without government money, Will Rogers’ organization had to find a private donor who bought this land for sale at the base of Tabernacle Dome. Dozens of homes could have been built here. Instead, the land will now be given to the park service.
Will: Had that not happened, we might see a McMansion going up on this property here at Tabernacle Dome.