Not Treading Lightly

With visitation on the rise and funding on the decline, America’s national parks look to curb overcrowding.

I sat under Surprise Arch. My hands, flat on the cool sandstone, supported me as I stared at the stone beam above. It was the summer of 2016, and I was on a guided tour of the Fiery Furnace, a feature in Arches National Park that the National Park Service describes as a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls. My family and I had just climbed short rock walls and leapt over deep crevasses. Now, we were resting under one of two arches on the tour.

Our guide, Christian, took this moment to step into his park ranger boots and talk about the tourism challenges facing America’s national park system. He said several parks were welcoming more tourists than they could support, and that this increase in visitation was harming the preservation of these protected lands. He wanted our opinion. How should we protect the parks while still letting people enjoy them?

“How about a lottery?” one woman said. I shot a glance in her direction, then looked back at Christian, shocked at the suggestion. He only shrugged. A lottery is not an option, I thought. I don’t want this to be my last time in Arches National Park, just because my name might never be drawn to be one of the few, lucky visitors.

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