Arches (General Photo)

[Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Southeast Utah Group of National Parks Superintendent Patricia Trap, as well as National Park Service Regional Chief of Public Affairs Marco De Leon, attended the Grand County Commission meeting to discuss a pilot timed-entry program at Arches National Park.

The system will require visitors to reserve a time slot to enter the park during the busiest seasons and hours of park operation. As of now, the identified times are April through October, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Arches National Park has faced record-breaking crowds over the last several years, causing concerns about resource damage, diminished visitor experiences, and access for emergency traffic. Park officials have dealt with the issue by temporarily closing the park entrance gates when the park gets too full, disappointing visitors who had to be turned away. That strategy has begun to reach its limit; last fall, the park had to close its gates almost every day. [See “Arches closes gates almost every day this October,” Oct. 29, 2020 edition. -ed.]

In previous discussions about a possible reservation system, there was strong local opposition, with business owners fearing such a system would turn visitors away from the area completely. However, as the crowds increase and other western parks experiment with reservation systems, Arches is now designing its own pilot reservation system. [See “Arches to trial timed entry, city considers search for new staff,”Sep. 30 edition. -ed.]

Studies have shown that Devil’s Garden, the Windows, and Delicate Arch are by far the most popular destinations within the park, and studies also suggest that the crowds at these locations are already diminishing visitor experiences. Officials hope that the timed entry strategy will help preserve both the park and the kind of experience visitors hope to have.

Park officials said at the meeting that they welcome feedback from the public on how the program should work, and are open to adjusting the system, though they did not specify how the public should contact the park.

For example, details like how far in advance visitors can reserve entry or if some entry slots will be held for “last-minute” planners could change in coming months.

Commissioners noted that the sooner the community understands the system, the more smoothly it will run, as service providers will then be able to help visitors understand and navigate the system.