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Arches National Park Halts Backcountry Camping As Flood of Visitors Rises

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Managers at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, have announced they will no longer issue permits for overnight backcountry camping until they can update its backcountry management plan, completed in 1988.

Over the last decade, the number of backpacking permits issued in Arches has reportedly risen by more than 500 percent. The park’s September announcement came as Utah’s national parks are struggling to cope with a flood of visitors. In 2013, the Utah Office of Tourism launched an advertising campaign promoting the “Mighty 5” national parks of Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. Now, critics are wondering whether the campaign has been too successful, pushing visitation at Arches from about 1 million a year to about 1.4 million in 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, visitation rose about 9 percent in Arches, while Canyonland’s numbers increased by 17 percent, to 630,000. The National Park Service is now developing a Traffic Congestion Management Plan for Arches and Canyonlands. According to High Country News, the entrance to Arches had to be closed on Memorial Day 2015 because a mile-long line of cars was backed up onto U.S. Highway 191, creating a traffic hazard. A recent review on the Tripadvisor website described Arches as “Very beautiful but crowded,” adding, “There were so many people the day we went that it interfered with the pleasure of the experience."

Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal. She is currently a freelance writer as well as the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.
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