National parks are not created to be cash cows. Their purpose is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations” (The NPS Organic Act of 1916). They do not exist to fill an endless supply of hotel rooms, restaurants or tourist shops.
Parks were also not meant to hold as many people as you can pack into them. A critical part of a park’s experience is to provide connection to the natural world – to cause us to marvel, to spark the imagination – as well as to fill depleted souls. There is no enjoyment in hiking overcrowded trails whether it be from ever-enlarging parking lots or shuttles that burp out a group of 50 to 60 people that vie for foot space as they race to “the sight.”
Park studies show the average visit to Arches is two hours and the greatest visitation happens between 9 a.m. and noon. Is it providing a positive visitor experience when one hour of that is spent sitting in a line to get in or driving around endlessly looking for a parking space? A timed-entry system would not necessarily lessen the number that would enter the park in the day, but rather spread the visitation out throughout the day so people could have a more positive experience. And, there would be times of the day (before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m.) and times of the year (November through February) when people could drive into the park without a reservation. These happen to be great times to visit the park! And, timed-entry could actually accomplish what the Moab promoters want – to spread visitation out over the year as more people might decide to come during the off-season.
This all seems to be lost on those who fear their business will crash if there is a timed-entry system. It is being said, without supporting evidence, that businesses will fail. Well, look around: business is booming outside of the parks, thanks to the amazing public lands and some 55 events a year. Four-wheeling, mountain biking, rafting, climbing, camping, hiking, car shows, art and music events, gem shows, marathons and so much more – these bring visitors here, as does the current UTV explosion.
Moab is booming because of all of it – it is not just about the parks. Park managers have been studying this issue and the park’s carrying capacity for years. A timed-entry system solves multiple issues and may easily keep visitors here longer as they simply schedule their entry time between other activities that also drive our local economy.
You can have your cake and eat it too, Moab. Unfortunately, greed has an insatiable appetite.