The outcry about the “reservation system” is greed at its worst. If you ask any hotel owner or tour operator 20 years ago if they would prefer to have two decades of year-over-year growth, they’d be ecstatic. Now, 20 years later, that success is not enough, and that kind of growth cannot go on forever. Yes, the NPS needs to “consider” impacts on physical, cultural, and economic environments, but it does have legal authority and precedent to prioritize the integrity of park resources first.
Almost without exception courts have ruled that NPS has ultimate discretion over how to protect and manage this nation’s most valued assets for the long run. The 1996 case of Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt upheld the NPS decision to ban mountain bikes in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There was also NRA v. Potter in 1986, International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association v. Norton in 2004, River Runners for Wilderness v. Martin in 2007 and Drakes Bay Oyster Company v. Jewell in 2013. These cases differ in their issues, but their rulings are the same: when user interests conflict with the integrity of the resource, the NPS has the authority to act in the interest of the parks, not in the recreational or economic interests of special interest groups.
Economies ebb and flow. No one is entitled to rent Jeeps profitably for all time. The “reservation system” at Arches is not just aimed to reduce vehicle congestion, but also congestion around the park. Arches is small, only 3 percent the size of Yellowstone, with less than 17 miles of trail. It cannot accommodate the 1.6 million (and growing) visitors it receives annually. To quote Kim Heacox, “If the finest hotels can have ‘no vacancy,’ if the greatest concert halls can have limited seating, then why not our national parks? The theater is full you are invited to our next performance.”