National park entrance restrictions unnecessary

Submitted by Richard Jones
Posted 6/28/22

Dear Editor:

Someone asked me what restricted park entry system would work best? First, there is no evidence provided by the Park Service that a problem will exist. The park’s justification …

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National park entrance restrictions unnecessary


Dear Editor:

Someone asked me what restricted park entry system would work best? First, there is no evidence provided by the Park Service that a problem will exist. The park’s justification for restrictions is that they “expect” increased visitation and a “possible” overwhelming the park’s infrastructure. The North Entrance is closed and along with adverse publicity that the park “is damaged and changed forever” should, by all logic, result in a significant decrease in overall visitation compared to the two past record years. How does the NPS expect an increase in visitation? 

They also say because the north loop is closed that all those visitors to that area will overwhelm the south loop. This makes no sense. The north loop and south loop are not separate areas. The majority of single-day visitors only have time for the south loop. Those who have another day will take a trip through the north loop. These are not “extra” visitors that only go to the north loop and will now overwhelm the south loop. Speaking of the north loop this is the first year in the past five years the entire north loop has been completely opened. Either the east or west legs of the loop have been shut down for construction. I heard no reports during record visitation years that this had caused an extra problem for the south loop. 

As to the current situation, the north loop suffered little serious damage from the flooding and, according to the NPS may completely reopen in a week or so. So much for the diversion of visitors to the south loop theory. So, the North Entrance will be closed to tourists at least for this season, and the road in the area of Soda Butte Creek at the east end of Lamar Valley west to the Northeast Entrance will also take considerable time to repair. These two sections mean only about 30 miles out of 450 miles of park roads that can not be used this summer. Again, explain to me how this will overwhelm the park’s infrastructure. Roads, structures, trails, and any other development in the park make up only about 1% of the park’s 2.2 million acres. 

During the past two years, the park had shut down almost all of the public infrastructure due to COVID-19 and yet despite the highest visitation numbers ever there were no reports of serious problems. Now, with arguably less visitation, more roads open, and almost all the park’s infrastructure available the park suddenly needs to cut visitation in half? 

My point is this. The park offers nothing but speculation about a problem. They admit they have a “reservation” system already in place but don’t want to use it yet because of potential impacts on users and commercial operators. That’s breaking news since last year the superintendent said they were “looking into” reservation systems maybe for the future if needed. They have presented no maximum capacity studies, no numbers, no time frames, etc, just trust us.

Now back to the question about what might work if there were a problem. Well, first, since the park is little damaged, visitation will probably be down, and with most infrastructure in place, why does anything “have to be done”? Open up the entrances and see if there’s a problem. If so specific problems can be dealt with. 

If indeed there was a strong, evidence-based justification for limiting visitation then the odd/even plate system is the worst solution. It worked for Jimmy Carter in the ‘70s to ration gas stations but this is not that. The supt. said he liked the “simplicity” of it, but there was evidently no consideration of the unintended consequences. Shoot first, aim later, simple huh?

Besides the fact there has been no logical or evidence-based public explanation of the need for limiting visitation, but if there was a need this system is the worst. This system almost cuts daily visitation in half. What evidence was put forth that visitation was needed to be cut back to the 1970s levels?  The superintendent said this decision was made in consultation with local communities. Really? Who was consulted and what options were they given? What evidence was provided to justify this restriction?  Or did the NPS say it’s an “emergency” and this is what we are going to do? The “emergency” justification seems to always work without question.

The simplest, fairest system would be to have an idea of how many daily people/cars could the park handle ( the NPS has no idea) during this “emergency” and when that number is reached then go to a one-car-in for one-car-out system. The other system is a timed entry system with only so many per hour as determined by the capacity (of which the NPS has no idea). There could also be a time entry reservation system, again based on a pre-determined capacity. 

A number of Park Service areas have limited entry systems during peak periods or in heavily congested areas, however, not one of them uses an arbitrary odd/even plate system. Now, of course, the commercial interests (tour busses, guided trips, people using commercial facilities within the park) have unrestricted access. The poor guy who drove out for a one-day visit to the park as a part of their Western trip but finds their license plate is out of sync now has to change all sorts of plans, or the two families traveling in two separate vehicles that each have different plates, or the person traveling through the park one day staying outside the park and wanting to return through the park the following day but can’t, the lone motorcycle with the right plate is fine but if it’s a group(two or more) they are all considered odd for entry, (meaning odd days there will be lots of bikes, the next day only a few), people who’ve reserved accommodations weeks or months ahead of time are now scrambling to find an extra day somewhere, and on and on. The park took none of this into consideration doing what was “simple” for the superintendent but to hell with the common visitor.

Richard Jones