Zion National Park overcrowding
Emerald Pools Bridge in Zion National Park, photo: Don Graham / CC BY-SA 2.0

Zion National Park is in the process of holding a series of local public meetings to discuss overcrowding and what to do about it.

I am here to say that Zion and other National Park sites will never meaningfully address carrying capacity.


Inherently psychotic with its dual missions of preservation and visitor use, the National Park Service constantly complains of being “loved to death” while at the same time plaintively blathers for money to consistently increase the footprint of services to accommodate more, using outdated and masturbatory programs like the Frankenstein biological/social science-based Visitor Experience and Resources Protection model as justification.

Zion National Park overcrowding
Zion National Park Travel Poster, 1938

Politically, the national, state, and local politicians always squeal like stuck pigs on behalf of their tourism councils and Chambers of Commerce. One just need look at how the BLM is dealing with permitting for the overcrowded Wave on the Arizona Strip, whereby local businesses oppose both online registration and printing of permits, complaining that they depend on duped lottery hopefuls who must show up in person in Kanab on the day it is held, most of whom never get a permit and must then find something else to do. How stupid is that?

How can you address overcrowding when even current ethically and Equal Opportunity (diversity and sexual harassment) embattled NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis doesn’t think overcrowding is an issue? From Travel & Leisure:

Zion National Park overcrowding
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the only real significant impact brought on by public use is an experiential one. In other words, concerns about crowds. I do think that there needs to be a range of quality experiences and that public use needs to be managed. But to be blunt, I worry a lot more about apathy than overuse.”

As a former NPS manager who sat alongside many like Director Jarvis and jerked in the same delusional circles, I have some suggestions that Zion National Park can implement to deal with park overuse:

—Do not look for money you don’t need by selling the naming rights to park buildings to corporate interests. Not only does Zion not need Zion’s Bank or Deseret Management Corporation identified with it, but as with recreation fees you will have an insatiable appetite for continued destruction.

—Although you cannot legally say as much, the number of parking lots for cars will largely determine the number of visitors at your park. Build only bathrooms, and invest in sewage treatment facilities. Do not increase the size of visitor centers or other of these type of similar facilities. Do not increase your infrastructure footprint.

—Join the rest of the civilized world and require backcountry users, climbers, canyoneers, day hikers, or anyone outside of designated high-use “Class 1 and 2” zones to have Search and Rescue (SAR) insurance. The cost is minimal and can be purchased for the length of the visitor’s trip.

—Create a day-use permitting system for “Class 3” zones complete with entry quotas during the high-use season. These could be obtained online, include the option for SAR insurance, and be presented upon request.

Zion National Park overcrowding
Zion National Park Visitor Shuttle

If by “overcrowding” the NPS refers to overuse that has and continues to cause resource destruction, it needs to get real about carrying capacity and develop meaningful quotas based on biological science instead of cowering under political assault and using shoddy social science to justify doing the wrong thing. Do not encourage a neverending supply of corporate funding to develop a larger infrastructure footprint to “serve” the visitor.

If by “overcrowding” the NPS refers to the high cost of SAR — which is significant to both the NPS and local sheriff departments — it needs to get real, start requiring insurance, and recoup the costs. Having known two winners of the Harry Yount Award (the highest award offered to park rangers) and countless chief rangers responsible for SAR and law enforcement services, depressingly none are in favor of SAR insurance, believing that somehow people will be reluctant to call them if they know if there will be a cost. My retort has always been that we instead end up with freeloaders and constant SAR complaints for money.

So, Zion and the NPS, you can complain as much as you like about the tragedy of the commons, but until your agency and its leaders stop being beholden to stuck pigs and institute what biological and social science tells you — which is to stop freeloaders, set quotas, and shut the gates — you are only wasting taxpayer monies as well as your time, breath, and credibility.

Zion National Park is holding public meetings to discuss increasing park visitation and its effects. All meetings run from 5 to 7 p.m.:

—May 23, Canyon Community Center, Springdale.

—May 24, SUU Sharwan Smith Student Center, Cedar City.

—May 25, Dixie Center, St. George.

—May 26, Kanab City Library, Kanab.


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