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KZMU: Arches National Park Needs Solutions for Traffic Congestion

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Molly Marcello / KZMU
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Arches National Park is officially scrapping their first attempt to find solutions for
traffic congestion in the park. They’re now starting a new process, one that takes a
harder look at mandatory shuttle service, additional entrance roads, and traffic patterns
within the park. KZMU’s Molly Marcello has more.

At a meeting in Moab, park staff said the growing traffic problems at Arches are now
part of the typical visitor experience. It’s not just long wait times at the entrance booth,
once visitors get in, they may have trouble finding a place to park. And that,
well…creates difficulties.

MELISSA ‘MEL’ HULLES: When people don’t have a place to park, when it gets so
congested that all the spots are full, people aren’t as reasonable about where they want
to park (laughs) or where they decide to. So our staff helps to educate so that they’re
mitigating any resource damage, keeping people from parking in the washes or on
crypto or on vegetation, but we’re also making sure people are being safe about it.
Because when people are on vacation they’re not always paying attention, they’re not
always in the best frame of mind, they’re stressed out, they’re with their families and we
want to make sure they’re making the best decisions when they park, especially when
we get to those congested times in the park.

Mel Hulles, law enforcement supervisor at Arches National Park. While her team is
currently applying these mitigation techniques – stationing additional seasonal staff at
popular sites like Delicate Arch to help the flow of traffic and people – she says they
need a better long-term solution. By the Park Service’s own calculations, over the past
11 years, Arches National Park visitation has increased by over 90 percent.

MELISSA ‘MEL’ HULLES: I don’t see our visitation slowing down or decreasing anytime
soon (laughs). Everybody wants to come here, it’s a beautiful place, I don’t blame them
at all, but we’ve got to find a better and safer way to manage the amount of people that
keep coming here because it keeps increasing.

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Credit Andrew Kuhn / NPS
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Arches staff has long considered what to do about congestion as they now expect an
estimated 3 million visitors every year. During their last planning process, a reservation
system floated to the top of the proposed alternatives. But that option sparked big
reactions from the Moab community, and although it had its supporters, there were
many business owners who feared a reservation system would negatively hit the local
economy.

CURTIS WELLS: Curtis Wells, and I serve on the Grand County Council.
Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells, along with partners at Moab City, have
advocated for a local solution to traffic congestion at the parks, one that involves
community consensus.

CURTIS WELLS: There’s a need for a vision on you know, what does the Arches
National Park experience look like down the road? Because if it’s a continued evolution
of where we’re at now, during those certain months when most of the tourism occurs,
the experience is being harmed and that is a detriment to the economy as well. And I
think that’s something that I’ve tried to communicate is - status quo during the peak
season is not ideal.

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Credit Moab Area Travel Council
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Delicate Arch

Park staff say that the reservation system option is not off the table, but they’re also
broadening their approach this time. They say they plan to better understand the
financial feasibility of additional entrance roads, a mandatory shuttle service during peak
season, as well as traffic patterns within the park and what those might mean for visitor
experiences at key sites. Vanessa Lacayo, spokesperson for the Park Service.

VANESSA LACAYO: Yeah, so through the comments that we received really
highlighted some opportunities to say, ‘well have you really looked at this? Or have you
really looked at this analysis? Or have you really looked at a secondary road or a
mandatory transportation shuttle?’ So we identified some gaps where ‘you’re right –
there are opportunities for us to pull additional information, let’s do that.’ And so that’s
what we’re here today to talk about, saying ‘this is (sic) the studies that we’re going to
use moving forward to guide our process.’
The Park Service has to protect the nation’s resources while also preserving visitor
experiences. As Wells says, that’s an increasingly difficult charge in a evolved tourist
economy.

CURTIS WELLS: With all of these issues of tourism that a lot of communities are
dealing with is where do you find the balance between access and allowing people to
visit, you know, public land? Balancing that with what’s in the best interest of the land
and what’s the mission of these agencies and so…It’s complex.
At the end of this new process, Arches National Park staff say they hope to find a
solution to traffic congestion that will improve access to the park and protect resources
while maintaining sustainable tourism.

Molly Marcello - KZMU

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