The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks plays an important role in providing funding and advocacy support to help protect park resources. Whether the issue be overcrowding, night sky protections, or understanding legislation that may have detrimental effects on the region's parks, the Friends, along with local communities, and visitors from all over the world can make a difference!
Opposing OHVs in the National Parks
In 2019, the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks stepped in to serve a critical public education and advocacy role to address a proposed change in federal policy regarding off-highway vehicles (OHVs) which would impact all national parks. The new policy would have allowed OHVs in all national parks and was introduced without a satisfactory public process. We believed it would be highly detrimental to the health and survival of Southeast Utah’s National Parks, as well as present a larger problem around preservation of all national parks.
With less than a month to halt the proposed policy, the Friends rapidly mobilized. We carried out an urgent community awareness campaign and held conversations among stakeholders in government, business, and environmental advocacy. Throughout this process, we found broad community consensus that the health of the parks should not be put at risk with the allowance of OHVs.
Three of Grand County's elected bodies approved a resolution opposing the allowance of OHVs in the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks and Monuments. Pictured: Emily Niehaus, Moab City Mayor; Evan Clapper, Grand County Commission Chair; Jazmine Duncan, Castle Valley Mayor, sign a joint resolution on October 15, 2019.
The Friends coordinated, with the Grand County Commission, Moab City Council, and Town of Castle Valley Council to pass a joint resolution opposing the proposed policy—the first time a joint resolution has been passed in Grand County. The resolution went on to be presented to the Department of the Interior, which rescinded the proposed policy.
Dark Sky Impacts
Preserving dark skies in the parks doesn't stop at park borders. Light overflow from overly bright lighting and from industry such as oil and gas drilling sites have a huge impact on the quality of the night sky. The Friends advocates for the preservation of dark skies and, with the help of Moab Dark Skies and the NPS, monitors situations that potentially threaten the region with more light pollution.
In 2019, concluding four years of study and work conducted by the Friends, Moab Dark Skies, and the NPS, Arches National Park received its designation as a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. A year later, in June of 2020, the Friends worked with local elected leaders to inform them of the consequences of a potential oil and gas lease sale: 110,000 acres of land on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands, adjacent to or within the viewshed of National Park lands.
With guidance from the Friends, Moab Dark Skies, and NPS, a letter was drafted and sent to the Grand County Commission regarding the oil and gas lease and potential impacts on the surrounding parks and public lands. With these leases, lighting and gas flaring can have a significant negative impact on the night sky.
Here are excerpts and images from that letter:
“At night, if oil well operations are using unshielded lighting or flaring natural gas, the negative impact to natural darkness will be significant. In this 2015 satellite image of the region you can see 11 oil wells which were flaring off natural gas at that time.
In the 2019 image, below, you will notice a great reduction in artificial light coming from the same oil wells. The gas flaring was captured in an oil pipeline to reduce flaring waste, and lights were directed downward at the request of Dead Horse Point State Park.
As you can see from these illustrations, just 11 well sites can cause significant ongoing lighting impacts. Imagine the impact with over 100 well sites. There are ways to reduce these impacts, but there is no way to know if the company that leases these parcels will be willing to Implement them to protect the night skies”.
The Grand County Commission approved the letter which was sent to the BLM requesting this land be removed from the lease sale. Subsequently, the BLM removed the lands from the sale process in late 2020.
The Friends will continue to monitor and support dark sky preservation.
Timed Entry at Arches National Park
Arches National Park has experienced unprecedented visitation over the past 5 years, and visitor numbers continue to grow. Currently, the park closes daily when the parking lots reach capacity, sometimes as early as 8:30 a.m., and then reopens as visitors leave. There are days when the park closes several times per day.
Since 2015, the National Park Service has been studying the implementation of a pilot Timed Entry System (TES) at Arches National Park, while investigating other possible options to mitigate overcrowding in the park.
The Friends fully supports the TES and has worked with local elected officials and NPS leadership to encourage the implementation of this system as a temporary measure to help ensure a more positive visitor experience and reduce negative impacts on the park environment.
Main entrance to Arches National Park at the beginning of a busy day.
Overcrowding at the Devil's Garden loop in Arches National Park degrades roadways, creates hazards to pedestrians, and stresses park resources.