Following the devastation in Yellowstone, are Utah’s national parks thinking about natural disasters?
Parts of Yellowstone National Park are closed indefinitely because of heavy flooding that damaged and destroyed roads. The 1,000-year flood event may not happen at Utah’s five national parks, but they’re preparing for other natural disasters.
Kait Thomas, a public affairs specialist for Arches and Canyonlands, said her thoughts are with those affected by the “unprecedented” event in Yellowstone.
“Fingers crossed that nothing quite like that does happen,” she said. “We don't know if we can really predict anything of that magnitude. It would be somewhat unlikely here in southern Utah. But we do feel fairly confident that we would have the staff and the ability to jump into action.”
The roads in both parks are in good condition — in Arches they were restructured and repaved in 2017.
Zion National Park has had its own experience with flooding in June 2021, roads closed and buildings were damaged in nearby Springdale.
“Everybody who works at Zion National Park worked hard to prepare for all kinds of contingencies,” said Jonathan Shafer, public affairs specialist at the park. “Our success in managing the flood that happened here in 2021, all the operational changes that accompanied COVID or rockfalls over the last year, they all demonstrate our resilience.”
There have been rockfalls in the last few years that have temporarily closed major roads and permanently closed some trails. They are inconvenient when you’re visiting the park, but Shafer said it’s important to remember they’re “part of normal canyon forming activity.” It’s why visitors should check social media accounts for the park and be prepared for changing conditions.
Similar to Arches and Canyonlands, officials at Bryce Canyon National Park don’t have the same kind of concerns that a Yellowstone-level disaster would happen. Peter Densmore, a public information officer at Bryce, said a lot of the forces of nature there move slower.
“I think wildfire and heavy rains, especially monsoonal storms, present some of the greatest risks to infrastructure at Bryce Canyon National Park,” he said. “Certainly climate change increases the risk and probability of these events occurring.”
When events like these do occur, Densmore said their first priority is the safety of staff and visitors. That often means temporary closures as they assess and repair impacted areas. He said they’re also doing preventative work for wildfires, like prescribed burns and mechanically thinning forests.
Densmore and the others said it’ll be hard to tell if visitation at Utah parks will be impacted by Yellowstone’s closure. This is the busy season and they encourage visitors to plan ahead and be prepared.