Coalition of American Canyoneers Position Statement

The National Park Service (NPS) is accepting comments to their Climbing and Canyoneering Management Plan for Arches through July 9, 2013. The Coalition of American Canyoneers (CAC) has carefully examined the NPS documents, reviewed the impacts of the plan and has formulated the following draft response. There are important changes to canyoneering management in Arches that could affect your access. We ask that you consider the position below and provide comments to CAC for incorporation into the final position statement by Sunday, June 30th. The CAC will provide comments to the NPS on behalf of our members. It is also extremely important that CAC’s members, and the broader canyoneering community, comment individually. Numbers matter!

The purpose of this document is to provide information on the key issues so members can quickly provide comments to the NPS on the most important issues without wading through the 103-page document plus 10 additional appendices. For those canyoneers with the time to study the issue in detail, the following link will direct you to the NPS website with all of the elements of the Arches Climbing and Canyoneering Management Plan:

NPS Document: Arches Climbing and Canyoneering Management Plan


In 2010 Arches National Park decided to create a Climbing and Canyoneering management plan. This decision was based on a perceived increase in use of the Park for these two activities as indicated by impacts to the resource from the increased traffic. A scoping activity was conducted to decide what the plan should cover. Public comment was collected. Then the Park spent the last 3 years collecting data and creating three options for a plan: Alternative A) do nothing – leave the rules in place that exist today, Alternative B) more actively manage climbing and canyoneering with the easing of some restrictions currently in place with the idea of adaptively managing the activities if the Park resource requires relief, and Alternative C) minimally manage the activities with restrictions governed by the Wilderness Act where wilderness existed inside the Park. Degradation of the resource would be accepted outside of Wilderness. The NPS has identified Alternative B, as their preferred option.

Coalition of American Canyoneers Position Statement:

The organization did not exist in 2010; therefore, the Coalition of American Canyoneers is not on the record with comments that would favor any particular option. In general, the CAC supports the NPS preferred Alternative (B) for the following reasons:

1) It will reduce the environmental impact on higher traffic routes (the NPS will maintain the preferred access routes to avoid multi-trailing) using actual data to make determinations on how to manage impacts.

2) It will allow new routes to be created (new routes are currently banned).

There are some new restrictions that come with the NPS preferred option (Alternative B) as follows:

1) Permits will be required in areas outside of the Fiery Furnace for the first time. Permits will be free and will be available outside the Visitor Center at a self-serve kiosk. Permits will also be available at the Lost Spring trailhead at the north side of the Park. Group size restrictions will be put in place. Up to 10 canyoneers can be in a group throughout the Park (except Lost Spring Canyon and Fiery Furnace). If there are more than 10 people in a group the group is required to break into subgroups of 10 or less and conduct different routes or the same route staggered in time to avoid long queuing at anchor stations. The group size limit in Lost Spring Canyon and the Fiery Furnace is 6 people.

2) Establishment of new routes that cannot be “ghosted” will require a formal application process and study period before being allowed.

3) Establishment of new anchors with fixed gear (bolts or webbing – anything that is left behind is considered fixed gear) will require advanced permission. Replacement of damaged anchors to improve safety will not require permission. Use of “ghosting” methods is required when natural features allow safe application of methods. Pitons are not allowed. If bolts are used, chains are highly preferred over webbing. Chains must be painted to match the rock. Webbing must match the rock. No motorized drills in Wilderness and only by permit outside Wilderness.

Coalition of American Canyoneers Alternative B Comments:

Permits: We urge Arches National Park to provide an online permit system in addition to the planned kiosk solution. Permit compliance is likely to be higher with the improved convenience of an online system.

New Routes: Climbing and Canyoneering are completely different disciplines. The rules governing establishment of new routes are clearly drafted from a climbing point of view. The rules do not support the establishment of new canyoneering routes. Climbers can visually inspect new routes from safe vantage. Canyoneers cannot see what’s inside a slot canyon in advance. We urge Arches to make the following changes to support establishment of new canyoneering routes:

1) The descending party applies for a permit to descend a new canyon. Every attempt is made to “ghost” the canyon, but webbing can be left behind if required. Webbing will be of a color that most matches the native rock color. If a bolt is required for a safe descent it can be placed. After the descent is complete the canyoneer provides the anchor information to the NPS and an assessment of the route is undertaken. The canyoneer would be required to alter the anchors if the NPS determines a “cleaner” solution is in the best interest of the Park.

2) In Appendix G, the NPS strongly advises the use of chains at bolt anchors stations. Chains are rarely ever acceptable in slot canyons, especially sandstone slot canyons. During flash floods the chains whip around causing considerable damage to the rock. We strongly suggest that Arches require the use of webbing for all anchors inside flood prone areas to protect the environment.

Guiding: Currently, Arches National Park does not allow canyoneering commercial guiding. Canyon guides often allow members of the public to get their first technical experience. Most guides are highly skilled and can convey the proper etiquette and safety processes to new canyoneers. The user data presented by Arches National Park in the plan does not demonstrate usage levels likely to create conflict between guided and recreational groups.

Please email comments to: Coalition of American Canyoneers.

canyoneering in arches np