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Cooperation, not ‘polite rejection,’ will help national parks overcrowding, says Rep. Moore

Arches National Park, North Window, Feb. 24, 2022
Arches National Park
/
National Park Service, public domain
A snow-dusted North Window in the pre-dawn light at Arches National Park, Feb. 24, 2022.

Utah Rep. Blake Moore is calling for more cooperation between the nation's national parks and their surrounding "gateway" communities to solve overcrowding.

National park visitation has been climbing for the past decade. Over 297 million people visited the nation’s more than 400 national parks, monuments and recreation areas in 2021. The increase in visitors has led to overcrowding and long lines at some of the most popular sites, including Utah’s Zion and Arches national parks.

Moore is the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. At a Dec. 6 hearing, Moore said local officials he spoke with are often rebuffed when looking for ways to alleviate stress on the parks and surrounding communities.

“You know, they've offered to help with parking, trailers outside the park … areas that are often underutilized,” he said. “And they’re often met with, let’s call it, polite rejection.”

He pushed for more collaboration going forward.

Arches National Park launched a pilot reservation program to deal with crowds for the summer of 2022. Visitation dipped by about 25% in that time.

Visitation to nearby Moab dropped as well. City officials say it’s too early to tell if the decrease is directly due to the reservation system or to other factors like inflation and high gas prices.

“People had more options of things to do than coming to an outdoor destination resort community like Moab,” said Mayor Joette Langianese. “There were some impacts in Moab because of the reduced visitation numbers, but I can't guarantee that it was part of the timed entry system at Arches.”

Going forward, Langianese supports continuing the Arches reservation program, which concluded in October. She sees it as the best way to preserve the area for future generations and keep visitors happy.

“What’s better for a visitor? To come and know that you have a reservation and you can get in the park or to come and stand in line for an hour and then be told you can’t go in and then you’re upset?” she said.

Moore advocated for each park to find solutions that best fit their needs.

“Our parks should resist the temptation to simply limit the number of visitors who can enter,” said Moore. “Instead, we should pursue innovative and common sense solutions that address the challenges of overcrowding while maintaining access to our parks for the greatest number of people.”

For Langianese, local leaders and the park system shouldn’t be picky about solutions.

“A good example of how we can cooperate is to look at all the varieties of ideas,” she said. “We just have to think out of the box.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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