Michael Liss argued in his letter to the editor (Letters, June 11, 2020) that everyone should be able to go to Arches National Park whenever they want, “during these unprecedented times … with our cities burning”.”
He noted that Teddy Roosevelt said the national parks were created “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” For the record, Roosevelt was involved in promoting some of the early national parks, but his involvement predated the creation of the National Park Service by a few years. In the meantime, developers and schemers trying to make a buck in the early parks caused extensive damage and took advantage of visitors.
This drove the creation of the National Park Service and the more complicated directive in the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, giving the Park Service a legal dual mission: to conserve park resources and provide for their use and enjoyment, “in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired” for future generations. Congress added a couple amendments to the act in the 1970s, but they left that dual mandate in place.
I suspect that Liss’ interest in keeping the park open to all people all the time has to do with more than empathy. But I don’t believe that keeping the park less crowded is bad for the local economy.
Most rivers in the West have permit systems, and most river runners accept these systems because they prefer an experience on a relatively uncrowded river, where nature can be heard above humanity. The river permit systems might slightly decrease the number of river trips overall, but mostly the systems spread out the trips through time. This outcome is something that cannot be predicted or managed by individuals; it takes a system.
The Arches National Park proposed timed entry reservation system of a few years back was a collaborative effort by park staff with input from the public. It was not a largely one-person proposal such as what Liss has suggested. It was extremely clever in reducing crowding during peak times and seasons while still allowing a way in for both visitors arriving unaware of the reservation system and locals wanting to visit spontaneously.
It would keep some reservation spaces open until two days prior, plus allow anyone to enter early morning and evening, every day. What could be a better way to address a truly democratic ideal, to address people who like to plan in advance and also those who don’t like to (me) or because of circumstances, can’t plan in advance? Liss fought against this proposal, and got a lot of press, but there were many, many local supporters.
Visitors are accustomed to reservation systems; it’s difficult to stay overnight in Moab without reservations. National Park visitors want to visit parks that are not overcrowded, and that have their natural and cultural resources preserved, not overrun. As a community, we have an interest in preserving Arches, Canyonlands and all of our beautiful and inspiring public lands, for our quality of life, for the rights of the other creatures in the world, and for our own economic good. Word will get out if Arches becomes more and more crowded and degraded by too many visitors.
I realize that the last paragraph refers to a previous version of a proposed reservation system, and that the current proposal is rather different in purpose if not particulars; it is intended to prevent overcrowding during a pandemic. I think most visitors and locals alike can see the wisdom in that purpose.
— Mary Moran