Studies on Arches traffic scheduled to last through 2020

Shuttle system, second entrance will be considered

Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon speaks to Moab residents during an open house Tuesday, Oct. 15, about the park’s plans on managing traffic congestion. Photo by Carter Pape

With the wind out of the sails of an initiative to manage traffic at Arches National Park via a reservation system, visitors next year might face the same levels of traffic they had this season, and if trends hold, worse.

After the National Park Service cancelled a formal plan to begin a reservation system at the park to staunch the flow of cars during the peak season by limiting daytime entries into the park from spring to fall, there is no longer a leading idea on how to manage congestion levels at Arches.

Additionally, any major changes that the park pursues in the end – even if there is support from Moab officials – must be preceded by a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts they might potentially bring. The act requiring this is NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Interim measures

Despite receding from its traffic management plan, park officials say they are nonetheless intent on finding a solution to the problem. “It does not mean we are disengaging from congestion management challenges at the park,” a park publication said.

Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon has promised to involve local leaders in the newly beginning process, as well.

“Waiting hours in line to enter the park or looking for parking are not the memories we want people to take away from their visit to Arches,” Cannon said. “We look forward to working with the public and local leaders as we move to our next steps.”

Alas, visitors to the area next year could leave Moab with the memory of a long line into Arches stuck in their craw. The park is taking interim measures to alleviate congestion inside the park by directing traffic and parking, but transient room tax income for the City of Moab suggests that visitation numbers increased again this season and could continue next year.

Should visitation increase again in 2020, it would be the 17th consecutive year of nearly unfettered growth in the number of people touring Moab, many with the intention of getting in line to see Arches’ arches.

Ideas on the table

Although the plan to bring a reservation system to Arches is dead, the idea is not. It, alongside a number of other proposals, will be the subject of further study by the National Park Service over the coming months, lasting into next year’s peak season.

The studies’ intent will be to thoroughly understand the effects of high visitation at Arches, such as visitors’ threshold for crowdedness (i.e. what level of crowding is desirable and how much is tolerable), pedestrian density (i.e. how many people can be on a trail before the walk through is significantly slowed) and parking accumulation (i.e. what visitation levels make parking effectively unattainable).

Although thorough studies already went into the park’s recent efforts to bring in a reservation system, new ideas on congestion management and possibly new patterns in visitor behaviors will inform the newly beginning planning process. “Public and local leaders,” in Cannon’s words, will also be involved with the process.

On the list of possibilities for Arches: A mandatory shuttle system and the possibility of adding a second entrance to the park.

The studies to evaluate these plans and other visitation dynamics at Arches are scheduled to be complete by next summer.