Zion National Park considering reservation system for all visitors

It’s no secret that our national parks are experiencing more visitors than they can handle. That’s a wonderful thing because it means more and more people are getting out and enjoying nature. But it also has serious repercussions for a system that does not have the infrastructure to handle the influx of visitors.

Zion National Park in Utah hosted nearly 4.3 million visitors in 2016, a record for the cherished park. Because of the massive amounts of visitors, Zion officials started the Visitor Use Management Plan last year.

After public comments, information gathering and balancing the impacts of potential plans, officials have released some Preliminary Alternative Concepts. Offering three preliminary alternatives, two of them involve the concept of park reservations.

Zion already utilizes shuttle and tour buses into the park to alleviate traffic, but this has not cut down on visitor count. One option is to do nothing about the problem. Obviously, that is not a sound route as the park is operating well above capacity. As they say of this option in the newsletter, “Natural and cultural resources and visitor experience would continue to be degraded especially where high, concentrated, and increasing visitation levels are expected.”

Zion National Park in all its glory. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Machin/Flickr

The other two alternatives focus on an online reservation system, very similar to the one that is currently used for securing camp sites.

The first of those would require a single reservation just to enter and explore the park. The second would allow tourists to enter the park at a specific time and visit specific trails. As stated in the newsletter, "Visitors would only be able to visit those sites in the park for which they have obtained a reservation."

In these instances, visitors without a reservation could pay an entrance fee and drive through the park, but would not be able to get out and utilize the park services. The number of reservations available would be based on capacity, would vary by season and could be between a manageable 10,000 people a day and an overpowering 30,000 people a day.

While this could greatly change the makeup of the National Park Service and how we recreate within national parks, it also presents ideas that very well may need to happen with continued growth in visitors.

This is merely just the beginning of the process, as officials note that this will take up to two years to figure out. They are continuing to ask for public comments until August 14 now that they have proposed these alternatives.

As Zion National Park spokesperson John Marciano told The Las Vegas Review-Journal, "I just want people to understand it's a pretty complex issue. We're taking our time because we want to do the right thing. Our mission is to protect the resource and to make sure the people who come here have a pleasant visitor experience.”

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