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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.

Permit lottery system for the Wave hike will soon be fully online

The Wave is a popular hike on the Arizona-Utah border along delicate and scenic sandstone.
Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
The Wave is a popular hike on the Arizona-Utah border along delicate and scenic sandstone.

Currently people hoping to hike the Wave have to enter an online or in-person lottery in Kanab. But Bureau of Land Management officials are planning to move the entire system online soon.

The Wave is a popular hike on the Arizona-Utah border along delicate and scenic sandstone.

A majority of the permits are already offered online and they’re awarded four months in advance. But on weekdays, people can enter in person at the Kanab Center. Four groups or 16 people can win a day — whichever comes first.

People who entered the in-person lottery said their odds are better there.

On a chilly Wednesday morning in Kanab, just before 8:30 a.m., people showed up for the 9 a.m. drawing — bundled up and hoping to be one of the lucky few to get a permit.

“I’m going to get it today,” said Doug Obenshain, who was there from California, “The universe will take care of me.”

Josef Holic is a photographer from the Czech Republic and this was his 30th time entering in-person. He was 0 for 29 up to this point.

“If I win the lottery, I'll probably go in the darkness or get a sunrise shot over there with a soft light and experience the Wave,” he said.

Holic said entering so many times hasn’t ruined his trip, he’s been able to explore the region. Kanab is surrounded by iconic public lands — nearby is the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. It’s not uncommon for people to stick around Kanab for multiple days, betting they’ll win a chance to hike the Wave.

Minutes after the 9 a.m. drawing, Obenshain walked out without a permit in hand. But Holic finally got a coveted ticket.

Paul Gagner owns Dreamland Safari Tours, a local guide company. They help people apply in person and take them on tours if they win a permit.

Gagner said he’s against the move to be fully online. He called the in-person lottery “a real attraction.” On the day Holic won a permit, it was quiet, only a dozen or so people were there. During the busy season, hundreds of people sometimes show up.

But, he said, being there in person is better than going up against online entrants anywhere in the world.

“By making it easier and allowing it to be open and less difficult to apply for a permit, we're expecting to see a pretty significant increase in applicants,” Gagner said, “which means that our odds of winning or any local’s odds of winning a permit are going to go down pretty precipitously.”

At the in-person lottery, officials give a safety and weather conditions briefing, Gagner said. That can be valuable for inexperienced hikers.

“With [the in-person briefing] going away now and everything having to be communicated online, most of us are pretty concerned that there's going to be more issues around injuries, fatalities and search and rescue calls,” Gagner, also a member of the local search and rescue team, said.

A spokesperson with the BLM didn’t share specifics about the new online system but said the transition is expected to happen in early 2022.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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