Timed entry for Arches?

Officials lean toward interim reservation system while studying long-term solutions

Crowds gather at Delicate Arch hoping for a perfect picture. Officials continue to discuss congestion solutions in Arches. Photo courtesy of Kyle Nossaman/GearJunkie

During a meeting Tuesday, May 7 with Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon and members of the Moab City and Grand County councils, officials expressed an interest in implementing a “timed entry” system, thus far known as a reservation system, as an interim solution to traffic congestion in the parking lots and at the entry to Arches.

Curtis Wells, a Grand County council member who said he has been working with Cannon on addressing the congestion problem at Arches, said that he and Cannon had recently begun focusing on implementing an “interim solution.”

“In my discussions with [Cannon], something that we’ve gained some traction on is the idea of an interim solution: something we can do now,” Wells said.

Wells went on to allude to a “timed entry system,” later clarified to mean the same thing as the till-now discussed “reservation plan.”

“If you’re not a fan of a timed entry system, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not in a good place now,” Wells said.

He then encouraged city and county officials to take seriously the idea of an interim solution combined with long-term planning.

“Instead of getting into what plans or what proposals will work right now, I just think for discussion purposes it would be good for the city and the county to really commit to this idea of an interim solution and long-term planning,” Wells said. He later said that implementing a shuttle system in the park would take more than two years, something that shuttle-advocate Michael Liss contests.

“We’re not going to get a shuttle system in the next two years,” Wells said. He later continued, “I don’t want to sit around for two years and let the problem get worse while we’re waiting for more studies to roll in.”

Liss told The Times-Independent that he could implement a shuttle service by the end of next March by rediverting “Hotspot Funding” originally allocated by the Utah Department of Transportation to construct a parking garage near the center of downtown Moab, something of which he is not a fan.

“The recent downtown parking study showed that we don’t have a parking problem, yet we’re going to build a four-story white elephant in the middle of Moab and waste $8 million of taxpayer money that could be better used to solve the real traffic congestion problem at Arches National Park,” Liss said.

That $8 million is part of funding allocated by the Utah Department of Transportation, originally intended to address parking issues in Moab by building a parking garage, among other parking improvements. City and county council members at the meeting agreed to keep the funding allocated as such rather than repurposing it.*

City and county officials present for the meeting also generally expressed agreement that an interim timed entry solution was the best path forward.

“I think that doing a timed entry or reservation system as proposed while we look at other solutions is an incredibly good compromise,” said Mary McGann, a county council member.

Added City Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, “I supported the reservation system since Kate brought it up a couple years ago.” She later continued, “I think it’s a good place to start.”

The interim timed entry plan, as it currently stands according to Cannon, would allow buses into Arches without a reservation, be in place during a six-month window during the peak tourism season and be in effect from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the days it is in place.

“We haven’t released the revised version yet, but that’s what we had in mind,” Cannon said.

Some of the officials present, including Wells, Cannon, Knuteson-Boyd and McGann, talked about the reservation plan being a good idea to alleviate congestion inside the park. They said the visitor experience has been corroded by congestion, and that’s bad for the park’s reputation.

Cannon later added that Arches is “not the only place with a crowding problem,” which was why she hoped to see a unified approach for Arches, the county and the city to address traffic congestion across the board.

County Council Chair Evan Clapper closed the discussion of the congestion problem to move on to the next item: overnight lodging regulations.

“I think Arches is kind of full of themselves to think that they’re bringing people to town,” Clapper said jokingly in closing.

* This story originally stated that hotspot funding “was intended for transit purposes, not tourism services.” The UDOT hot spot funding actually is intended to address issues related to tourism; parking is the particular issue that the hotspot funding was originally allocated to address in Moab.

Monte Aldridge, the UDOT official at the meeting, responded to a question about the availability of funding for a transit study by saying that such funding was available, but that it would be limited to transit purposes, not tourism services like a shuttle to Arches.