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?
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.