SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years ago more than 2.6 million people visited Zion National Park. By 2015, that number increased by more than a million annual visitors, respectable growth over the eight-year period and evidence of the successful campaigns to make people aware of The Mighty Five national parks in Utah.
Now, only two years later, park visitation at Zion has grown by nearly another million, reaching a record 4.4 million visitors as of the end of November. With expected monthly visitation this month to top 100,000 in December (it was 126,299 last December), the beauty of the area now includes vistas of the backs of hikers and lines of cars trying to get into and out of the park.
As the Chinese proverb says: “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”
Maintenance costs can't keep up. Cleaning latrines is an issue. And the costs to maintain the park and keep visitors safe has the Park Service considering a $70 per car entry fee, up from $30 a car. That was enough to draw outrage from some lawmakers.
So it was interesting that none of this was part of the conversation when President Donald Trump came to Utah last week and cut the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Bears Ears national monuments, and Rep. Chris Stewart later said he would introduce legislation to create Utah's sixth national park in a piece of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Said Trump: "Public lands will once again be for public use."
Conservation groups, Native American organizations and an outdoor retailer have sued Trump over his dismantling of Bears Ears National Monument.
Patagonia Works and Utah Diné Bikéyah were part of a coalition of eight groups who filed a federal lawsuit claiming the president's actions are illegal. They want the monuments returned to their previously designated sizes. Five separate lawsuits were filed last week to fight Trump's action.
Reporters have tried to make the point that all the land under consideration is already federal land, controlled by the BLM. Key then is managing a mosaic of designations under the federal banner.
Inside the newsroom this week one of our reporters observed the irony of all of this: National parks bring the most visitors as people learn about them. Monuments attract fewer visitors but still highlight the region and its bounties. Wilderness areas attract fewer still, and the public lands simply under BLM control not many visitors at all. Each designation has certain protections, but it's really the management plans that everyone should be concerned with.
"You can't close the door. The door got opened," Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison told Deseret News reporter Amy Joi O'Donoghue in October 2016. Moab is now internationally known as a gateway to tremendous beauty and outdoor recreation. But the crush of visitors is impacting every bit of the town.
Those in support of the president's action will be battling those opposed, for years. And the battles are now in court. Meanwhile visitors who have discovered these areas continue to come in droves. Creating the best management plans while this plays out may be the most important immediate strategy.
As another Chinese proverb states: "Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown."