As Arches National Park’s 2nd timed-entry season ends, what comes next?
Oct 27, 2023, 11:05 AM
MOAB — Arches National Park officials say they expect to release their 2024 summer operational plans sometime over the next few weeks after turning to a timed-entry pilot program over the past two peak tourism periods.
The second year of the program is scheduled to end next week, but the first two years were determined to be “successful” when it came to reducing traffic congestion and distributing visitation throughout the day, which is improving visitor experiences, park officials asserted Tuesday.
While the program has helped reach those goals, park officials are now seeking feedback as they work on “long-term strategies” to best handle overcrowding in the park. Brendan Bray, the park’s acting superintendent, said he and other leaders want to know what parts of the two-year program worked and what didn’t, and what people want to see in the future as they visit the park.
“Our goal in this process comes back to providing predictable, safe and efficient access to a variety of high-quality experiences for visitors while ensuring that what makes Arches so special is protected future generations,” he said in a statement.
Arches National Park first announced the timed-entry program at the end of 2021, as it sought solutions to overcrowding in the park. The main problem was that there would be days when people arrived in droves at the same time, and the park had to temporarily shut down because there wasn’t enough space for all the cars.
While visitation is up 73% over the past decade, this issue reached a breaking point in 2021, as a record 1.8 million people visited the park throughout the year.
The timed-entry system was billed as a solution to this because it requires a time when people enter the park on a set day during the busiest months of the year, so visitors aren’t all at the park at the same time. Visitation did drop back down to almost 1.5 million last year, although most Utah parks experienced drops in visitation in 2022.
Yet officials say the program has seemed to work based on data and park feedback to this point. They wrote in a newsletter this week that they will consider “previous actions, studies and stakeholder engagement,” as well as public comment as they now look at a more permanent plan, though.
They did not say when the plan will be implemented or if it will be different from the 2024 operational plan.
The park’s website lists four main questions that officials want people to consider as they provide public comment, including what other strategies could help reach the same goal as the timed-entry program.
All public comments can be made through the National Park Service website before the period wraps up at the end of Dec. 1.