Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Lind­say White­hurst Salt Lake Tri­bune file

SALT LAKE CITY» It would be a first for a U.S. na­tional park: re­quir­ing reser­va­tions to get in. But it’s an op­tion that Zion Na­tional Park is con­sid­er­ing to man­age an over­whelm­ing surge of vis­i­tors to its sweep­ing red-rock vis­tas and canyons in Utah.

Zion, which wel­comed 4.3 mil­lion peo­ple last year, is weigh­ing on­line reser­va­tions for those who want to ex­plore its main canyon. Na­tional Park Ser­vice rangers strug­gle to cope with over­crowded tour buses and al­le­vi­ate dam­age to Zion’s nat­u­ral won­ders, in­clud­ing soil ero­sion and hu­man waste near trails.

Peo­ple with­out reser­va­tions could pay an entrance fee and drive through the park, but they couldn’t stop to hike or pic­nic.

“We have to do some­thing,” said park spokesman John Mar­ciano. With lim­ited bud­gets, Zion’s Park Ser­vice rangers rou­tinely see long lines and plants tram­pled by vis­i­tors who also have cut some 30 miles of their own trails.

Zion isn’t the only U.S. na­tional park with swelling num­bers of tourists, and at least two na­tional parks, in Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii, are test­ing more lim­ited reser­va­tion sys­tems for park­ing.

More than 330 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited U.S. na­tional parks in 2016, a record. Vis­its were bol­stered by the im­prov­ing econ­omy, cheap gas and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s 2016 cen­ten­nial.

Zion is the fifth-most-vis­ited na­tional park. It’s par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to over­crowd­ing be­cause its iconic cliffs and trails are lo­cated in the nar­row, 6-mile-long Zion Canyon. The park urges vis­i­tors to take shut­tles be­tween March and Novem­ber.

Af­ter a se­ries of pub­lic meet­ings, Zion rangers are propos­ing an on­line reser­va­tion sys­tem, sim­i­lar to the way camp­sites are re­served now. While cer­tain hikes and ac­tiv­i­ties re­quire per­mits or reser­va­tions, the new sys­tem would ap­ply to the park’s main cor­ri­dor.

The num­ber of reser­va­tions would be based on ca­pac­ity, With more than 4.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2016, Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park was the fourth-most-vis­ited na­tional park in the coun­try. From late June through Septem­ber, the 415-squaremile park is crowded — es­pe­cially on week­ends when rangers re­strict traf­fic to pop­u­lar ar­eas. would vary by sea­son, and could fall some­where be­tween a man­age­able 10,000 peo­ple a day and an over­pow­er­ing 30,000 peo­ple a day, Mar­ciano said.

One op­tion would re­quire a sin­gle reser­va­tion to en­ter and ex­plore the park. A sec­ond would al­low tourists to en­ter the park at a spe­cific time and visit spe­cific trails, like An­gel’s Land­ing, a pop­u­lar

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