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Arches is the latest U.S. national park to roll out timed reservations as visits surge

Visitors to Arches National Park in Utah will need to make reservations for staggered entry times starting in April of next year as part of a temporary program to cut down on crowding at one of the nation's most popular outdoor attractions.

It's the latest park to set up such a system to deal with a gush of visitors that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"[O]ur goal is to better spread visitation throughout the day to reduce traffic congestion and visitor crowding," Patricia Trap, the superintendent of Arches National Park, said in a statement.

The pandemic spurred an explosion of interest in America's outdoor spaces, especially national parks, where soaring visitation and a rise in vehicle traffic have worsened crowding at popular sites and strained federal resources.

It's led to some unpleasant conditions at several parks with reports of litter and even human feces on trails.

In response, Glacier National Park in Montana and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado implemented timed entries at some locations.

Officials hope the new timed entry reservation system at Arches can help with the spike in demand, too. The number of visitors to the park grew from 996,312 in 2009 to 1,659,702 in 2019 — a 66% increase — according to the National Park Service.

Visitors who book a reservation at Arches National Park beginning April 3 will be given a ticket with a one-hour window to enter the park between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Once they're in, parkgoers can stay as long as they like for the rest of the day. Officials will permit about 2,700 vehicles per day during the six-month pilot program.

A few reservations will remain available for purchase the day before entry, and those with certain permits or other authorizations won't need reservations.

"We believe this will create a higher-quality experience while maximizing access for our visitors," Trap said.

Data collected during the pilot program will help inform officials about future park policies, she added.

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