Traffic plan rattles fears

NPS: Initial economic hit could reach $22M; Cannon to speak March 19

This arial view of Sunday’s rock slide shows huge boulders that fell from the cliff above the River Road Sunday morning. The event occurred after the area received large amounts of precipitation in addition to being affected by seasonal freeze and thaw cycles.
Photo by Kevin Walker

Arches Superintendent Kate Cannon will speak at the March 19 Grand County Council meeting regarding a proposed plan to implement an entry reservation system at Arches National Park.

Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells said Tuesday, “This is a big issue with big consequences.”

Cannon was scheduled to make a presentation on Tuesday, March 5, but was not in attendance. She requested to speak in two weeks as part of the “agency reports” agenda item, but the council slotted her report instead with her own item.

According a recently published report commissioned by the National Park Service, the proposed system at Arches could cost the Moab economy $11 to $22 million in annual tourism-related revenue in the first year of implementation. This would represent a roughly 2 to 5 percent decrease from last year’s tourism-related economic spending.

Chair of the Moab Transit Authority Study Committee Michael Liss said in an email to NPS representatives, “The Arches National Park Advanced Reservations Requirement will have a significant negative impact on the Moab local economy as clearly demonstrated in this NPS economic study.” Liss said later in the email “it is incumbent on our community to do all we can to create the best possible Arches visitor experience.”

While the economic impact to the local economy during the first year would decrease, according to the study, the effect would not be expected to be permanent.

“Available information and data are insufficient to predict whether and to what extent impacts would occur in subsequent years,” said Robert Paterson, an economist based in Cambridge, Mass. commissioned to complete the study. “However, I expect that after a full year of implementation, commercial operators and individuals would better understand and adapt to the system, and that visitation would revert to what it would otherwise be under the system by year three.”

NPS began developing the reservation plan in 2015 in an effort to “improve visitor enjoyment, visitor access, visitor safety, and resource protection,” according to its website.

The NPS completed an environmental assessment of the plan in 2017, at which time it said that visitation to the park had increased by 90 percent in the previous 10 years. The agency determined that the primary impacts of the system would be overall improvements to the environmental condition of the park.

The agency said at that time that the new system could have “positive and negative effects” on both local businesses and the experience of visitors to the park. While congestion would be limited within the park under the system, NPS said “parking will continue to be an issue, as will long waiting lines at the entrance station.”