In a move that could signal the future of your national park vacation, Zion National Park officials are thinking of moving to a reservation system for entry into the iconic red rock cathedral to protect resources and ensure the enjoyment of visitors.
It’s an idea being considered more and more in recent years by superintendents as record-breaking crowds strain places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Zion, and many other parks.
There likely will be pushback to Zion’s proposals. But park staff, budgets, the tight confines of 6-mile-long Zion Canyon, and today’s growing crowds cast a reservation system as perhaps the best way to help superintendents meet the National Park Service Organic Act’s overriding directive:
… to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
“On Memorial Day Sunday, we had 30,300 people in the park that day,” John Marciano, the park’s public affairs spokesman, said in the park’s Summer 2017 newsletter.
“That’s nuts. No one has a good time.”
To provide visitors with a better experience in the park, and to better protect natural resources, Zion officials are seeking public comment through August 14 on three proposals:
- Alternative A: Make no changes from the current visitor management system.
- Alternative B: Require all visitors to obtain a reservation for their stay. With this reservation, they would be allowed to go to any of the park’s front-country areas, places such as Zion Narrows, Angels Landing, and Observation Point.
- Alternative C: In addition to needing a reservation to enter the park, you’d need specific reservations if you wanted to enter Zion Narrows or hike to the top of Angels Landing. Day hikers heading into wilderness areas also would need to obtain permits.
A reservation system, if implemented, would apply to all areas of the park, from Zion Canyon and Checkerboard Mesa to the Kolob Canyon corner of the park.
Driving the process is overcrowding to the point where it can jeopardize safety and damage the park’s natural resources. While there are roughly 13 miles of official trails in Zion Canyon, officials say there are more than 30 miles of visitor-created unofficial trails there.
“The longer we wait, the worse the condition of the resource gets,” said Marciano.
Visitation to Zion has gone up 60 percent over the past decade, to more than 4.3 million a year. While the park years ago moved to requiring visitors to ride shuttle buses into the famous canyon unless they had lodging reservations, the shuttle system has bogged down with increasing demand.
“Visitors are experiencing long lines for basic services,” stated the park’s newsletter.
“The shuttles are routinely over capacity, with buses that have a capacity of 68 seated riders commonly being filled with between 95 and 100 people.
“Vehicular traffic is often backing up along roadways into Springdale, causing traffic congestion problems there,” the newsletter further stated.
“Trails, campgrounds, and other infrastructure are seeing wear and tear more quickly and faster than funding allows for repairs.”
Visitor safety also is at risk, as the number of emergency response calls for rangers “has increased exponentially, and emergency response can be delayed because of traffic congestion,” said park officials.
If a final decision is made to go with a reservation system of some sort—either Alternative B, Alternative C, or some sort of hybrid—then Zion staff will have to settle on a daily visitor capacity.
Details of the proposal, and a page to comment, can be found at this site.
Nothing can exceed the wonderful beauty of Zion…
In the nobility and beauty of the sculptures there is no comparison…
There is an eloquence to their forms which stirs the imagination with a singular power
and kindles in the mind a glowing response.
—Clarence E. Dutton, geologist, 1880