Deep Desert Expeditions co-owner Mike Coronella calls the Fiery Furnace "his office." [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Mike Coronella calls Arches National Park’s Fiery Furnace area his office, but like dozens of other local commercial guides, he could soon find himself working somewhere else.

National Park Service Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Kate Cannon informed Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permit holders this week that as of Jan. 1, 2017, the park will no longer authorize their operations in the rugged backcountry area.

Cannon said the decision comes in response to the rapid growth in outfitters who lead permitted hikes through the Fiery Furnace. That number has jumped from just seven commercial guide services as recently as 2009 to 88 today, and Cannon said the trajectory is unsustainable, based on the fact that they’re competing for just 25 permits each day.

“In order to deal with that, it’s very obvious to us that we can’t come up with an equitable way to allocate 25 permits among 88 CUA holders,” she said.

Both guided hikes and private-party hikes through the Fiery Furnace are increasingly popular, as word spread through websites like Trip Advisor and Facebook, making it one of the most sought-after destinations in southeastern Utah.

“You’ll see that frequently, the Fiery Furnace and Delicate Arch are talked about together, and people have made that into one of the things you’ve got to do when you come to Moab,” Cannon said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said that the park’s decision “seemingly came out of nowhere,” and he called on the park to immediately reverse course, citing negative impacts on Moab’s economy.

“The Park Service should work together with the community and local businesses on an innovative solution that enhances the park experience, supports local businesses, and maintains the natural beauty of Arches National Park,” Chaffetz wrote in a letter to the park superintendent.

Cannon said the park hasn’t had a chance to formulate a response to the congressman’s letter, but is aware of his position on the issue.

“We understand the congressman is opposed to this and we’re considering how to respond,” she said.

Coronella, who runs Moab-based Deep Desert Expeditions, said the decision would upend a large part of his business.

“Right now, I have the lion’s share of the Fiery Furnace, so this impacts me more than anyone else,” he said. “… We built our business around Fiery Furnace, and we lost it. It’s just that simple.”

Another CUA permit holder who asked to remain anonymous said that his business could be forced to close its doors, or at least downscale its operations.

“I’m definitely a little sick to my stomach over this,” the CUA holder said. “Because it’s probably 90 percent of our revenue, at least.”

Cannon said she understands their concerns, but doesn’t see an alternative.

“We can’t proceed on this course,” she said. “It’s untenable. We have to make some changes.”

Superintendent says plan needed to address unsustainable situation

This article will be updated with additional information and local reactions to Arches National Park’s decision to eliminate Commercial Use Authorizations for operations at the Fiery Furnace.