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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Temporary reservation system coming to Arches National Park next year

A photo of visitors waiting in line in their cars waiting to get into Arches National Park.
Kate Groetzinger
Long lines of cars entering Arches National Park was one of several reasons local officials opted to try a new reservation system.

Arches National Park will have a timed reservation system next year, joining several other national parks in similar efforts to curb the impacts of increased visitation in recent years.

Tourism at Arches has grown by over 66% between 2009 and 2019, jumping from 996,312 to 1,659,702 visitors per year, according to the National Park Service.

The growth has led to long lines at the park’s entrance, crowded trails, more accidents and greater environmental impacts.

“We were faced with the question of how can we guarantee those positive visitor experiences and how can we protect this park, while still maximizing access,” said Kaitlyn Thomas, a public affairs specialist with the National Park Service. “Our goal is not to limit visitation but distribute it throughout the day.”

Graph shows visitation patterns in July 2020, in which cars begin arriving after 5 a.m. and create delays through peak hours.
Courtesy of National Park Service.
Graph shows visitation patterns in July 2020, in which cars begin arriving after 5 a.m. and create delays through peak hours.

Park officials are piloting the temporary reservation system from April to October 2022. Visitors will be able to make reservations three months in advance on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Jan. 3. There will also be a limited number of reservations available after 6 p.m. for the following day.

Tickets will be required to enter the park from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., though once in, people can stay as long as they want. Visitors entering the park outside those hours won’t need a reservation, nor will anyone biking in and those with camping, backcountry or similar permits.

Local business owners in Moab and Grand County have pushed back on requiring reservations in the past, worrying it could affect tourism in the area.

But Thomas said the idea seems to have broad public support. Of the nearly 300 public comments received on the proposal, almost all were in favor, she said. Only four were opposed.

“It does show that folks are ready for the Park Service to do something to mitigate these issues,” she said.

In a presentation Monday, Thomas pointed to data from Glacier National Park, which found their ticket system led to fewer people entering during peak hours and a smoother curve throughout the day. There were also two sharp peaks before 5 a.m. and after 4 p.m., when tickets weren’t required. Thomas said she expects a similar pattern at Arches.

She said park officials will be monitoring visitation data throughout the pilot, soliciting feedback and making adjustments as they go.

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