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Day-Use Permits Proposed for White Rim and Elephant Hill

If you had your ear to the ground this past week, you probably heard the collective grumbles as thousands of overlanders bemoaned the portent of more land access restrictions, this time in Utah along the White Rim and Elephant Hill trails. Utah is a frequent battleground for access issues and since these two areas are amongst the most popular in the state, the thought of losing them immediately raised hackles. The interesting twist this time around isn’t relative to mining rights, environmental impacts, or other hot-buttons, but mostly centered around the quality of user experience.

These two areas, positioned just a stone’s throw from Moab, have been increasingly visited to the point of concern. Getting reservations to camp within the few designated camping areas is becoming more difficult as competition for those spots swells. This means more visitors to the area are committing to a hearty one-day push to traverse these trails. For a bicycle rider, the 100 mile loop along the White Rim is arduous, but possible. For a motorcycle, it is a long day, but a comfortable one. Even in a truck, the trip isn’t all that bad. Where the problem arises is with the throngs of one-day users, and perhaps more noticeably, those traveling in large groups. The proposed solution is to limit the number of people who can access these trails on any given day.

Sparking the discussion to impose day-use permits are reports of huge groups swarming the trails. It’s becoming more common during peak months to see groups of two dozen motorcycles or even trains of up to 30 trucks plying the narrow trails along these once solitary landscapes. For those who were lucky enough to have secured a reservation for a campsite along the route, the sight of hundreds of other travelers bumbling across the dusty horizon must be disheartening.

Day-use permits are nothing new and as more users venture into our wild places, will be more common. Places like the Grand Canyon have relied on strict permit allocations for decades, the benefits of which are measurable and oft lauded as the primary reason why the experience within is so magical. Others clamor that such restrictions go against the ethos of public lands entirely. This begs the question: Is visiting the White Rim Trail with bumper to bumper traffic true to the essence of the experience?

 

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If you have an opinion, you have an opportunity to express it before April 14th, 2015. From the NPS:

 

Date: March 16, 2015
Contact: Kevin Moore, 435-719-2120

The National Park Service is seeking public comment on a proposal to require permits for all motor vehicle and bicycle day use on the White Rim and Elephant Hill roads in Canyonlands National Park.

Requiring permits for day use on these increasingly popular roads will help the park better protect resources and the visitor experience in these wild and remote locations.
For the White Rim Road, a total of 50 day-use vehicle permits (including motorcycles) and 50 day-use bicycle permits will be issued each day. Group size will be limited to three vehicles and 15 bicycles.
A total of 24 day-use vehicle permits (including motorcycles) and 12 day-use bicycle permits will be issued each day for the Elephant Hill Road. Group size will be limited to three vehicles and 12 bicycles.
Each motor vehicle and individual bicycle will need a permit.
No fee will be charged for these day-use permits during the 2015-2016 seasons. Payment of the park entrance fee is required for day use and will be collected with permits issued online or at the time of entrance to the park for walk-in permits.Annual Passes, Military Passes, Senior Passes, and Access Passes will be honored for entrance.
Comments regarding this day-use permit proposal may be submitted electronically on the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cany_day_use. If comments are not able to be made via the PEPC website they may be sent to: National Park Service, Southeast Utah Group, Attn: Planning and Compliance Coordinator, 2282 S. West Resource Blvd, Moab, Utah 84532. Faxed comments may be sent to (435) 719-2300. The deadline for comments is April 14, 2015.

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.

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