ST. GEORGE — The popular hiking destination known as the “The Wave” may see bigger crowds if a proposal from the Bureau of Land Management is approved.
The proposal, released Wednesday, would increase the number of hikers allowed in The Wave from 20 to 96 per day.
Access to the popular rock formation on the Utah-Arizona border had been limited to hiking permits, making it one of the more exclusive hiking destinations in the Southwest.
A 6-mile round trip hike through tall sandstone buttes and sagebrush is required to get to The Wave, a wide, sloping basin of searing reds, oranges and yellows in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, located about 2 1/2 hours east of St. George in Kane County.
Over the last five years the demand for permits has skyrocketed, mirroring the increase in visitation to other popular tourism sites like Zion National Park.
In 2018 alone, over 168,000 individuals applied for the 7,300 permits available to hike The Wave, said Rachel Carnahan, public affairs officer for the BLM’s Arizona Strip Field Office. Only an estimated 4.3 percent of applicants were successful in getting a permit.
“Due to that demand for public recreational access, that is why we are looking at this proposed increase,” she said.
A 45-day public comment period on the proposal began Wednesday and will run through June 21. Three public scoping meetings are scheduled for early June.
“We’re really excited to have those face-to-face conversations with the public and get their input and provide all the information to them in one location so they can study it and make substantive comments,” Carnahan said.
Depending on how the process proceeds following the public comment period and an environment impact study, the permit increase could be implemented by November.
The proposed changes are already an option laid out in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument resource management plan, she said.
An increase in the number of hikers would prompt the BLM to look at improvements to visitor facilities like parking and restrooms, public safety needs and issues related to human and animal waste.
Like anywhere in the outdoors, The Wave can become lethal depending on the circumstances. Last July a Belgium man died of heat exhaustion while hiking though the area. Other heat-related deaths occurred in 2013.
“BLM certainly has visitor safety always at the forefront of our minds,” Carnahan said, adding that the agency does its best to educate hikers heading to The Wave. However, a hiker’s own safety is ultimately their own responsibility.
Some people are wary of the plan to increase the number of hikers.
Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity in northern Arizona is worried about the impact on The Wave’s fragile desert landscape and hikers’ experience.
“It could mean more people in your photographs, more people walking off trail onto sensitive soil, more wildlife disruption. The agency needs to make sure any user increase is compatible with environmental protection.”
Beckie Lambert, a medical assistant from Colorado, was denied a permit to hike The Wave in January. She’s excited about the plan to increase accessibility for avid hikers like her, but said she is concerned that more hikers could be risky.
“It’s a delicate wilderness area, quadrupling the number of people leads to more trash, more monitoring,” she said.
Scoping meeting and submitting comments
The BLM will be hosting scoping meetings at the following locations and times:
- June 4, 5-8 p.m. at the Kanab Middle School, 690 S. Cowboy Way, Kanab, Utah.
- June 5, 5-8 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott Page at Lake Powell, 600 Clubhouse Drive, Page, Arizona.
- June 6, 5-8 p.m. at the Dixie Convention Center, 1835 South Convention Center Drive, St. George, Utah.
Comments can be emailed here; be sure to include “Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Comments” in the subject line.
Comments may also be mailed to 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah 84790, attention Brandon Boshell or sent by fax to 435-688-3258.
Documents relevant to this project will be posted on the BLM’s ePlanning home page.
Based upon the issues identified, the BLM will assess the appropriate level of environmental analysis and documentation. If you have questions about this project, please contact Brandon Boshell at 435-688-3241 or [email protected].
The Associated Press contributed to this article
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