The Moab City Council failed to adopt a resolution that would have expressed support for a plan to institute a reservation system at Arches National Park.
By a vote of 3-2, council members decided to postpone the measure, feeling it needed more work, even though they were generally in support of the concept.
“This is not nearly ready for prime-time,” said Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd. “There is way too much that in my opinion doesn’t belong here.”
Specifically, Knuteson-Boyd was bothered by statements in the resolution that she felt lacked supportive evidence or data.
The resolution itself, presented on Tuesday, would have declared the council’s support of the Arches proposed reservation system, with a further recommendation to transition to better long-term solutions as technology and funding becomes available.
By and large, the idea found favor with the council, especially following a presentation earlier in the meeting from Arches Superintendent Kate Cannon, and comments from the public that were generally more supportive of the reservation plan than had been expressed in other venues in recent weeks.
Knuteson-Boyd and fellow Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton were cautious of certain rationales stated as reasons for supporting the Arches plan. For instance, while park officials say the reservation plan would both facilitate and encourage greater park visitation, it is a prediction and a hope, rather than fact-based, Knuteson-Boyd and Guzman-Newton said. But the resolution gave it as a stated reason.
Likewise, they felt it was a stretch for the resolution to say, as it did, that Moab’s economy would benefit from an extended off-peak season, “generating greater full-time rather than seasonal employment, boosting incomes and alleviating the town’s affordable housing problem.”
“I cannot stand by that,” Guzman-Newton said. “We could say it is going to alleviate climate change and hair loss just as well,” illustrating the lack of data to back up the resolution’s claims.
Knuteson-Boyd also felt the resolution should recognize the efforts of the National Park Service to alleviate the congestion problem in other ways, and later the process it has undertaken to develop the reservation-system plan. “They’ve put a lot of work into it, and that needs to be added.”
The resolution’s drafter, Council Member Kalen Jones, acknowledge the “factual overreach,” yet stood by the resolution as presented. He and Council Member Mike Duncan voted to adopt the resolution that night, but Knuteson-Boyd, Guzman-Newton and Council Member Rani Derasary voted to refine its wording and bring it up again at a future meeting.
During her presentation, Cannon continued to explain specifics about the plan that until recently had been less clear, including that 25 percent of each day’s 2,006 reservations would be held in reserve for people who showed up at the park without one, or that reservations would only be required between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. and between the months of March to October.
Guzman-Newton raised one of the concerns that have generated some of the strongest opposition to the plan: Would there be any park-access perks for local residents?
“We’re working on that,” Cannon said. She said she was trying to find a “legal way" to let locals in without a reservation.
“Local people’s familiarity with the park is an asset,” she said. “I know that access to the park is really important to local people. A lot of times it’s why they live here.”
Cannon maintained, as did the resolution, that the reservation system would create a better visitor experience at the park than is now provided because of the congestion.
The experience is what it’s all about, said Ashley Korenblat, CEO of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures and managing director at Western Land Solutions.
She spoke in favor of the reservation system, indicating it would improve visitor experience, which would in turn drive continued and sustained larger numbers of visitors.
“One of the most important things to look at, through the business lens,” Korenblat said, “is the quality of the experience.”