Utah Sen. Mike Lee urged the National Park Service chief to stay involved with local community leaders to address issues like visitation surges at Zion National Park or accessibility problems in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

“As you’re well aware, visitation at the parks in my state remains high. This is, of course, good news, but it does contribute to some of the challenges related to crowding at park entrances and at popular trails within those parks — especially at very popular parks like Zion,” Lee said during a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Lawmakers examined President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget request for national parks, which is $3.8 billion, a $289 million increase from last year, at the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The Senate invited National Park Service Director Charles Sams to testify about funding challenges the agency faces as well as concerns over the growing number of visitors coupled with a staffing crisis.

Zion has experienced nearly a 90% increase in visitation since 2010. The park welcomed more than 5 million visitors in 2021 alone.

“Stakeholders in Washington and Kane counties in the southwest corner of my state proactively developed a number of creative strategies to address the crowding issues at Zion,” Lee said.

One way has been to reroute visitors “to some of the lesser known areas within the park as well as other trails and attractions in the greater Zion system,” he added.

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He said that in 2021, Deputy Director Mike Reynolds, who served as the National Parks Service regional director for the intermountain region at the time, had assured Lee that “the NPS is committed to collaborating with local communities, businesses and nonprofit partners to find solutions that address crowding and congestion in a thoughtful way.”

Lee asked if Sams agreed with Reynolds’ statement and what his vision for local collaboration looked like.

Sams said he did agree with the former regional director and the federal agency remained committed to working with gateway partners and communities as well as county and state leadership to manage visitation.

He added that apart from utilizing the lesser-used park areas, technology will also be deployed to give visitors real-time information about the crowds and road conditions in the parks.

Lee then shifted his focus to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, home to Lake Powell, which has gone through changes after the “great winter” Utah had.

“In fact, we’ve set records for snowfall and for the resulting snowpack,” he said. “While this provides some great temporary relief, water level and continued recreation access in Glen Canyon remain a concern in the context of this ongoing drought we’ve had.”

He asked Sams how the park service will change its operations in comparison to last year when the state was in a drought. To this, Sams said they will continue working with the on-the-ground workforce and thanked the subcommittee for the $26 million in disaster supplemental relief last year.

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“We’re going to bring some of those funds to bear to mediate some of those issues,” he added.

Park service comptroller Jessice Bowron revealed where these funds were being used at Glen Canyon, specifically.

“There is an open solicitation for the Bullfrog Marina relocation that should close later this month that will move the marina off the bay and onto the main channel of the Colorado (River) which will really guarantee access for years to come,” she said during testimony.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Zion National Park had 5 million visitors in 2022. The 5 million total was in 2021.

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