If the community is going to be asked to take the risk of inviting the world to visit Arches and Canyonlands national parks, interim Superintendent Kayci Cook wants to ensure steps are taken to ensure social distancing occurs.
Cook said Arches closed roughly three hours after it opened May 29 for the first time since March 28 and then reopened three hours later once parking lots were no longer full.
But closing the park might not be a usual occurrence if a plan to temporarily move to a timed entry system — only for the busiest times of the day — takes off. Right now the issue is being studied and any plan is weeks away, said Cook as she cleared out her desk at the NPS offices.
Cook said Justin Mossman, the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks chief of Administration, will fill the superintendent position for the remainder of June.
The Grand County, City of Moab and Castle Valley councils in a combined 13-2 vote agreed to approve the plan to reopen the parks at an electronic meeting held Friday, May 29. Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells and City Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton cast the no votes.
Cook said the efforts to make the park safe amid COVID-19 concerns needed to succeed if the parks are going to remain open, or be subject to reduced access.
The entrance fees have been waived since the reopening due to concerns over transactions involving cash or cards with rangers at the entrance, but that will change in the next few days.
Should Arches go to a timed system, visitors could reserve a time on the recreation.gov website, a resource Mayor Emily Niehaus said was “a great platform.”
Niehaus also predicted higher visitation from people living along the Wasatch Front and other relatively nearby locales, while it’s unlikely Moab will receive the number of international visitors it typically gets.
She also said it should be a priority to develop a shuttle service and challenged the private sector to “put together a tour” with NPS.