If local residents have any concerns about proposed fee increases at Arches and Canyonlands national parks, they haven’t been voicing them en masse.
The National Park Service is accepting comments on plans to raise entrance and camping fees at the parks, and so far, the agency has received solid support for the idea, according to Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Kate Cannon.
In fact, some community and business leaders have said the proposed increases are too low, and should be increased even more to help fund improvements at the two parks.
Under the agency’s proposal, week-long entrance fees for private cars would rise from $10 to $25, although the current entrance fee of $10 per car would remain in place at Arches during off-peak visitation hours over a trial period. In other significant changes, an annual Southeast Utah Group pass to the two parks, as well as Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments, would climb from $25 to $50.
Local resident Joe Kingsley said he believes that most park visitors – himself included – view the proposed fee hikes as a small price to pay.
“I have no problems with the fee increase,” he said Jan. 29. “People will look at it and say, ‘I won’t have another cup of coffee.’”
According to Cannon, many local residents already take advantage of the agency’s annual Southeast Utah Group pass to all four national parks and monuments in Grand and San Juan counties. Senior citizens can find an even better bargain, she noted: A lifetime National Park Service pass for U.S. citizens 62 and older costs just $10, and it grants them access to any national park in the country.
While there appears to be broad support for the proposed fee hikes, Kingsley and others who attended a Jan. 29 park service open house are adamantly opposed to a separate idea to adopt a reservation-based entrance system at Arches.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money (to operate), and it’s going to have a lot of negative impacts,” Kingsley said.
The reservation system idea is just one of many possibilities that park service officials have floated as a way to reduce traffic congestion at Delicate Arch, The Windows and Devil’s Garden during peak visitation hours. But it’s far and away the most controversial one that’s come up to date.
As a narrower alternative to a park-wide reservation system, some commenters have suggested that the agency should consider site-specific reservations to park and hike at Arches’ most popular attractions, including the Wolfe Ranch Trailhead to Delicate Arch.
Others believe that Arches could relieve traffic congestion by building new entrance stations at locations such as Willow Springs, and by promoting other, less popular attractions inside the park.
One traffic management strategy has received unanimous support to date, according to Cannon: By working with local businesses, the Utah Office of Tourism and other stakeholders on the communications front, the park service could encourage visitation during off-peak hours and the off-peak visitation season.
Local resident Josh Green supports many of those same ideas. But he sees no upside to a reservation-based entrance system.
“It’s just going to hurt our economy, and there are better ways to manage congestion,” Green said.
Moab hotelier J.J. Wang’s views on the idea have been shaped in part by his own unsuccessful attempts to join reservation-based group tours of Arches’ Fiery Furnace area.
“In 35 years, after 10 attempts trying, I still haven’t gone to the Fiery Furnace,” he said.
Wang also pointed to his experiences in the local hospitality industry, noting that it takes considerable resources to manage reservations on a far more limited basis.
“If you have 1.5 million people calling, how many people are taking reservations?” he asked.
In all likelihood, Arches would have to hire a multitude of new employees just to keep track of phone- and Internet-based reservations, he said.
Wang said he would rather spend that money on a shuttle system and more parking spaces, entrance stations and trails inside Arches.
Kingsley supports most of those ideas – except for future efforts to expand parking areas, which have already increased by 93 percent in recent decades.
“By increasing parking, you’re laying asphalt down in a park where people are coming to see natural beauty, and not infrastructure that has been set aside for the automobile,” Kingsley said. “You’re just feeding the cancer, in my opinion.”
Grand County Councilwoman Mary Mullen McGann is hopeful that the agency can come up with a combination of creative ways to address overcrowding at the park.
Among other things, she supports the idea of a fee-based shuttle system. To encourage ridership, she said, the park could charge shuttle users less money than drivers would pay to tour the park in their own vehicles.
“Then maybe it could pay for itself,” McGann said.
Cannon said she’s heard from those who believe that commercial businesses could operate shuttles between the park and local hotels or other locations in town – an idea that Green welcomes.
“As long as it’s not one person or one company,” Green said.
Although many local residents have voiced support for a park-wide shuttle system, Cannon once again seemed to dismiss the idea of an agency-operated fleet. She pointed to past studies which found that it would be cost-prohibitive to operate the system, given the long distances between attractions inside the park.
“We just don’t have that much money, and this fee increase is not going to change that,” Cannon said.
The National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group is accepting public comments on its proposed fee increases through Feb. 13.
Comments on the fee increase proposals may be submitted electronically on the agency’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/arch_fee_increase; or at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cany_fee_increase. Written comments can also be mailed to: National Park Service, Southeast Utah Group, Attn: Planning and Compliance Coordinator, 2282 S. West Resource Blvd, Moab, Utah 84532. Faxed comments may be sent to 435-719-2300.
For more information about congestion issues and possible management strategies, call Cannon at 435-719-2101, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
But many residents concerned about Arches reservation idea
I have no problems with the fee increase … People will look at it and say, ‘I won’t have another cup of coffee.’