Zion National Park Visitor Use Management Plan

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Zion NP web page: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=58542

BACKGROUND

Visitation to Zion National Park has been increasing for decades, but especially significant increases have been experienced in the last few years. In 2015, 3,662,220 people visited the park, which was 450,624 more visitors than in 2014 which was also a record year. The peak season in the park has now extended into early spring and late fall. During the height of the summer season it is now common for visitors to wait in long lines to enter the park and board the park shuttle. Parking is routinely full in the park by 9:30 a.m. daily which adds to the parking congestion in Springdale. This increase in visitation stresses park infrastructure, can degrade natural and cultural resources, and adversely affects the visitors’ park experience. As this is the Centennial celebration year for the National Park Service, it is anticipated that visitation will be at record levels again during the 2016 season.

In order to address these issues the park is beginning a Visitor Use Management (VUM) planning process. Through the VUM process, park managers will devise measures to be taken that provide an enjoyable and safe visitor experience while protecting the park’s fundamental resources and values. Various measures will be tested and important information collected during the planning process to help inform the Plan.

The plan will focus on areas where the issues are most acute, principally the park’s front country areas, especially in Zion Canyon. However, due to the influence of any changes in the management of front country areas, the plan will need to analyze impacts associated with gateway communities and the park’s wilderness areas.

This collaborative process will include park partners; visitors; local, state, and federal agencies and governments; and the public. Continue to check this site throughout the process for planning updates for updates and how you can be involved.

Public Comments are due by June 17, 2016 (midnight MST)
https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=113&projectID=58542&documentID=72908

CAC RESPONSE

The Coalition of American Canyoneers is a 501 (c)(3) organization with 1,300 members focused on promoting and preserving canyoneering access on public and private lands. We believe in finding the appropriate balance between canyoneering access and conservation. We fully support the NPS efforts to address front country overcrowding issues and the involvement of the public in the process to create an effective solution. These are the organization’s comments to the NPS on Visitor Use Management:

Zion National Park VUM Questions

1. What experiences do you value most in Zion National Park, and why?

Answer:
The majority of our members mainly use the Zion backcountry to access slot canyons. Ensuring access to Zion National Park’s slot canyons, while balancing the need to protect and conserve the slot canyon environment, is most important to our members

2. Have you experienced crowded conditions, and if so, was it associated with trails, parking areas, shuttle stops, entrance stations, visitor centers, restrooms, or others locations?

Answer:
It’s common for our members to experience crowded conditions in the front country with parking, shuttle bus crowding, and entry station lines. Most of our members must pass through the front country for backcountry destination access/egress, so they’re often delayed by front country processes and procedures.

3. How can the NPS better manage visitor use to meet its mandate for resource protection while also maintaining a quality visitor experience for future generations?

Answer:
The NPS can better use technology to segregate the backcountry access process from that of the front country, thereby relieving overall front country crowding. In general, we believe that backcountry crowding is currently not a problem with the limits imposed by the current permit system.

For example, a priority lane at the Park entrances could be established for National Park pass holders to avoid the wait at the entry gate enabling faster entry for many visitors. This is successfully employed at Grand Canyon and other Parks today. Additionally, canyoneers who have won last minute drawing permits can wait for an hour or more at the visitor center to pick up said permits. This impacts parking, visitor center crowding and traffic in the Park. There is no reason to require canyoneers to obtain last minute drawing permits in person at the visitor center. The last-minute drawing system should be incorporated into the express membership system thereby allowing someone who has ‘won’ to carry said permit on their phone. Alternately, the NPS could provide law enforcement rangers with a daily list of permit holder names to aid in compliance monitoring. In general, we believe a number of technological and procedural solutions could be employed to streamline backcountry use thereby reducing front country crowding.

4. Should visitor use be limited to relieve crowding and/or resource impacts? What ideas do you have to relieve crowding?

Answer:
We believe the NPS should first examine how to streamline Park processes and infrastructure before limiting front country visitor use. Backcountry use is already limited by the permit process. Next, the NPS should seek Congressional funding to rationally increase park infrastructure to handle additional use. Finally, as a last resort, the NPS should limit front country access during busy times. We firmly believe that backcountry use, within the current permit system, should not be limited as a result of front country crowding. There are plenty of options to create solutions to allow backcountry access even when the front country is at full capacity. For example:

A. create a express lane at the Park entry for National Park Pass holders
B. remove the requirement for canyoneers in the last minute drawing system, or the walk up system, to pick up the permit at the visitor center in person. Allow online lottery permit access and allow canyoneers to hold the permit on their cell phones for presentation to law enforcement rangers. Conversely, law enforcement rangers can print a daily list of permit holders and ask for ID to confirm permit compliance. There is no reason a canyoneer should be required to carry a paper permit around in an environment where the paper permit can be easily destroyed. Furthermore, visitor center hours are limited, forcing canyoneers acquiring same-day permits to delay trip starts waiting for the visitor center to open. By eliminating the need to pick up a paper permit at the visitor center, canyoneers can get earlier starts on backcountry trips improving safety in monsoon season.
C. if the NPS needs to communicate with a canyoneer about a permit issue they should call the canyoneer’s cell phone. Additional contact information could be added to the Wilderness Express Membership profile. The express membership system should be robust in order to reduce the need for personal interaction between the wilderness desk and backcountry users. This should include the ability to update passwords, group members, vehicles, and anything that is expected in a customer membership portal profile – including perhaps a way to chat with the wilderness desk. Currently, the wilderness phone goes to voicemail and a response can be substantially delayed. Again, this avoids a visit in the Park where parking, traffic, and entry bottlenecks add to the front country problem.