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Arches National Park sees a drop in summer visitors

Arches National Park, Devils Garden Trailhead, March 19, 2017
Marty Tow
/
NPS, public domain
The parking lot at Devils Garden Trailhead in Arches National Park starts to fill up, March 19, 2017.

Visitation at Arches National Park has dipped about a quarter this summer compared to last. The drop in numbers comes as the park tries out a reservation system to handle tourism.

In 2021, Arches, along with other national parks in Utah, had record visitation and would often stop allowing more cars into the park because of crowding. With demand on the rise, the park implemented a pilot timed-entry system earlier this spring.

Since starting the program in April, there haven’t been any closures, said park spokesperson Kait Thomas, which makes for a better visitor experience. Instead of the unpredictability of whether or not they would be able to enter the park, Thomas said the timed-entry system “gives you peace of mind.”

Records kept by the park show that May, June and July 2022 visitation numbers are some of the lowest in several years, besides the start of the pandemic in 2020. Most of Utah’s national parks had fewer summer tourists this year compared to last – but Arches had the biggest downturn.

“What we've seen is that our tickets actually aren't selling out right now in July and August, and we think a lot of that has to do with the weather,” Thomas said. “But we think that some of that has to do with just that general decrease that we're seeing at other parks across the region.”

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Nearly 400 tourism industry groups, including several from Utah, signed a letter in July that asked the National Park Service to better accommodate international travelers. In it, they said parks like Arches with reservation systems make it difficult for people planning big trips months in advance.

Vicki Varela, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said there are a variety of factors that could impact travel and the reservation system is just one of them.

“Gas prices have probably contributed significantly, a lack of local marketing has probably contributed significantly,” she said. “Also, anytime you set up a new system such as timed entry. … Inevitably some people have not been able to visit because they haven't figured out the new system yet.”

This summer was a “perfect storm” of those factors, according to Sharon Kienzle, the retail sales manager for Canyonlands Natural History Association, the nonprofit that runs stores within southeast Utah national parks. Kienzle said it’s definitely quieter for tourism businesses, which some Moab locals are happy about.

“We would like to see them open up a few more reservations available,” she said. “We think the no-show rate is a little higher than they anticipated, people are getting reservations and then just not coming. … It’s a learning curve, but it is better.”

Thomas said the pilot reservation system will end in October. After that park officials will decide if they want to go through the process of making it permanent.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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