Park Service seeks public input to solve parking jam
Delicate Arch, the familiar sandstone formation in Arches National Park, is regularly visited by dozens, maybe hundreds, of visitors during peak visitation periods.
Those visitors quickly fill the small, 73-space Wolfe Ranch parking lot, and their recreational vehicles and sport utility vehicles park along either side of the road for a half-mile or so, sometimes narrowing the road to the equivalent of a single lane.
The clogged road presents a challenge to emergency and law enforcement vehicles, said Sabrina Henry, environmental protection specialist for Arches National Park, which is beginning the process of addressing parking, environmental and other issues around iconic Delicate Arch.
The most pressing issue is parking, and the park is seeking suggestions about how best to deal with too many cars and too little pavement.
One potential solution is approximately doubling the size of the existing parking lot, adding 60 to 80 new spaces.
That’s about the number of vehicles that park officials find lining the road at peak visitation times, Henry said.
The problem isn’t just cars along the road. Visitors who park along the road either traipse down the road or along the unofficial “social trails” through the desert alongside it.
Once they reach the trail head, it’s a mile-and-a-half uphill hike over slickrock to the arch, substantially increasing the stress on visitors.
The crowding along the road only makes things worse for emergency vehicles, Henry said.
Park Service rangers hand out $15 parking tickets, but for many visitors that’s just part of the cost of seeing the arch, Henry said.
“It’s not really deterring people,” Henry said.
The Park Service is seeking comment as part of the scoping process for an environmental assessment.
That means people can offer suggestions about the kinds of solutions for parking, crowding and other issues they’d like to see the Park Service consider in an environmental assessment.
Other possible solutions include requiring reservations for the area and hard barriers to prevent roadside parking, Henry said.
The Park Service also wants to examine possible solutions to issues at Winter Camp Wash and about the flash floods that have been known to strand visitors with sediment, Henry said.
Officials hope to move quickly enough on the process that they can seek funding in the next fiscal year.
Additional information and the opportunity to comment are on the park’s website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/arch.
Comments also can be mailed to the National Park Service, Southeast Utah Group, Attn: Planning and Compliance Coordinator, 2282 S. West Resource Blvd., Moab, Utah 84532.
The deadline for comment is April 8.
In the meantime, Henry said, visitors can avoid congestion by taking advantage of slow periods.
“Right now it’s gorgeous at Arches,” she said, “and there’s nobody there.”