ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — Officials at Zion National Park have scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss challenges facing the park as it continues to draw record numbers of visitors.
National Park Service figures show that nearly 1 million people had visited the park in southern Utah through the end of April. That's about an 8 percent increase over the same time period last year and puts the park on track to set an attendance record for the third year in a row, reported The Spectrum newspaper in St. George (http://bit.ly/2021fMj).
The increased traffic, combined with a stagnant budget, has taken a toll on Zion's infrastructure.
"It has definitely been a struggle. And there hasn't been an increase in base funding to help compensate for thecrowds," Zion spokeswoman Aly Baltrus told The Associated Press last fall. Officials say search and rescue calls doubled in 2015 as more people veered off established paths.
Officials are working on a new management plan and will gather feedback at a series of public meetings in communities near the park in late May.
"Your voice is extremely important in this process," Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a written statement. "We want to hear about your experiences in Zion National Park, your perspectives on visitor use levels and any recommendations you may have to enhance resource protection and visitor experience."
Zion officials will start with a meeting in Springdale on May 23, followed by Cedar City on May 24, St. George on May 25 and Kanab on May 26.
Park visitation has been up nationwide over the past few years and officials expect the increase to continue into 2016, which marks the centennial celebration for the National Park Service.
The Park Service's "Find Your Park" campaign, intended to reintroduce people to the park, launched in 2015 and is behind some of the increase. Another ongoing campaign encourages fourth-graders and their families to go tonational parks with a free, yearlong pass for them.