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Arches Turns 87 and Feels Some Growing Pains

National Park Service Photo

Arches National Park celebrated its birthday this week. This year is shaping up to be a memorable and exhaustive one for the park.

On April 12, 1929, President Herbert Hoover designated two small, disconnected areas in eastern Utah as Arches National Monument. It underwent numerous expansions over the next four decades before President Nixon signed legislation designating it a national park in 1971.  

All five of Utah’s national parks broke visitation records last year, and they’re gearing up for an even busier peak season than usual as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016.

Dave Sakrison is the mayor of Moab, nestled between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. He says while the city of Moab absolutely benefits economically from the huge amount of visitors, it comes at a price.

“Anytime you’ve got 20-30,000 people in a community where the full-time population base is only 5,000, it definitely has an impact on the community,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it.”

He says Moab’s infrastructure is aging and wearing down. The city is hoping to replace a 60-year old sewage plant in the next two years.

Visitation at Arches has risen every year since 2008. Mayor Sakrison says that many people walking around is hard on the desert’s delicate ecosystem. He also says an increase in visitors means more incidents of graffiti and traffic backing up both inside and outside the park. He recalls a recent Monday when he drove past the Arches entrance.

“And I was surprised that the line was all the way back to the highway. That’s pretty unusual for a Monday or during any given weekday,” he says.

In Arches’ first year as a national monument, 1929, it had 500 visitors. Last year 1.4 million people visited the park, and this year, Arches is expecting to break its visitation record for the ninth year in a row. 

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