More people are visiting Arches National Park every year, and the park superintendent is proposing a reservation system during the busy season to ensure they don’t have to turn people away.
But the idea is fiercely opposed by the business community in nearby Moab, Utah, who rely on tourists and fear the system would be confusing and lead to fewer impromptu visits.
The issue flared up again Memorial Day weekend when the state highway patrol closed the park entrance because of overcrowding and dangerous traffic conditions, the Deseret News reports.
Visits to Arches and Canyonlands national parks rose 20 percent last year and will likely surpass 1.5 million this year, said Kate Cannon, the parks’ superintendent. That’s up from 1 million five years ago.
Cannon is proposing a reservation system for visitors to avoid having to turn people away during the busiest time of year.
“I would say that level of visitation is beyond our current capacity,” she said. “We would give visitors certainty so they would know before they got here that they would get into Arches National Park.”
The park is already getting ready to start charging higher fees in the busy season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in hopes of spreading out the crowd, Cannon said.
Marion DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, doesn’t oppose the higher fees during peak hours, but she thinks the reservation system could lead people who are turned away to warn others to stay away.
“I think that they will tell their friends, like, ‘We got here and they wouldn’t let us in the park,’ ” DeLay said.
Colin Fryer, a motel and lodge owner, said a reservation system would be complicated and expensive.
“It’s a huge undertaking, and the chances for mistakes are large,” Fryer said. “And it’s going to basically put out the ‘Not Welcome’ sign. It’s going to make it so hard to visit that they’re not going to visit.”
Cannon’s proposal has backers among loyal park-goers who think it’s necessary to protect the landscape and ensure visitors have a nice experience not ruined by mobs of people.
In July, park officials will begin considering several ideas to manage the overcrowding. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in before any decisions are made, Cannon said.