The traffic into and out of Utah national parks and other scenic attractions is spiraling upward out of control.
Last summer on a quick visit to Zion National Park, there were cars parked along both sides of the road for miles before the entrance, and a mile or two after the entrance. The car line to enter the park was over 30 minutes long. The road up the Virgin River toward the narrows is closed to most car traffic, and visitors are now required to take a bus. To get through the tunnels, there were also waiting lines, to sheperd RV traffic through the adits.
According to National Park Service statistics, Zion is ranked fifth on the list of the most visited national parks in the United States, behind Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain, with 4,295,127 visits. That was one spot higher than Yellowstone.
There is now a stoplight at the turnoff to Arches NP, and the entrance traffic frequently stretches in a long line back along the highway toward Moab. The turnoff to the “Island in the Sky” portion of Canyonlands NP is being littered by tacky private developments. And the overlooks at Bryce Canyon NP are frequently overcrowded.
Boy Scout groups have toppled a hoodoo in Goblin Valley State Park and destroyed dinosaur tracks near Red Fleet Reservoir. Pot hunters have been arrested and successfully prosecuted, and pictographs and petroglyphs have been vandalized. A county commissioner instigated an illegal 4-wheeler excursion down Recapture Canyon.
Areas that were little known like Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons (two of the best entry-level slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau) now are well marked, and there is a large parking lot at the entry point. So even less publicized regions of Utah are becoming crowded.
The once sleepy town of Bluff is gradually awakening, and becoming an important adventure destination. Motels and inns are expanding, restaurants are becoming more diverse. The LDS (Mormon) Church development at Fort Bluff is expanding.
I wish I had a solution. National park and state park status encourages excessive use. No protection allows unhealthy development, destructive 4-wheeler activity, and vandalism. I really don’t like the option of limiting access, but I don’t see a lot of other solutions. Better funding for the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management would help. As would improved funding for their equivalents in state government.
I do wish I could see a solution. I love Utah’s back country. My family, friends, and I have had many happy expeditions to the mountains, canyons. and deserts of Utah. But part of the fun has been the isolation.