It would be a first for a US national park: requiring reservations to explore it. But it's an option that Utah's Zion National Park is considering to manage an overwhelming surge of visitors, the AP reports. Zion, which welcomed 4.3 million people last year, is weighing online reservations for those who want to explore its main canyon. National Park Service rangers struggle to cope with overcrowded tour buses and to alleviate damage, including soil erosion and human waste near trails. People without reservations could pay an entrance fee and drive through the park, but they wouldn't be able to stop to hike or picnic. Zion is the fifth most-visited park in the NPS system and is particularly susceptible to overcrowding as many of its cliffs and trails are located in the narrow Zion Canyon. "We have to do something," says park spokesman John Marciano.
The number of reservations in the proposed system would be based on capacity, vary by season, and fall somewhere between a manageable 10,000 and an overpowering 30,000 people a day, per Marciano. One option would require a single reservation to enter and explore the park; a second would allow tourists to enter the park at a certain time for specific trails. A third option would be to make no changes, but the park says that would allow continued degradation of the environment and hourslong lines. Zion isn't the only US national park with swelling numbers of tourists, and at least two national parks, in California and Hawaii, are testing more limited reservation systems for parking. Public comment on the Zion plan runs through Aug. 14. It could take at least two years before officials begin phasing in a reservation system. (Read more Zion National Park stories.)