BLM re-evaluates walk-in permits for The Wave, considers online alternative


Jan 17, 2012

KANAB — Visitor feedback has prompted the Bureau of Land Management to re-evaluate its permit application system for the Wave, and proposed changes could impact local communities.

Currently, 20 hikers per day can obtain permits for the world-renowned Wave. Ten of the permits are distributed in advance online, while 10 more are distributed each day through a lottery at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab.

Obtaining a permit can be a tricky feat. The odds of winning a permit online ranged from 4 to 25 percent in 2013 depending on the season, and 50 to 150 people show up to apply for a permit in person on any given day, according to the BLM. The warmer months, with the exception of July, are the busiest for the attraction.

“Because we have people who come from all over the world, we’ve just had a lot of feedback from all of our users that have asked for us to kind of re-evaluate the permit application process for the lottery to see if there is a way to improve customer service and essentially the efficiency of that system,” said Rachel Carnahan, the public affairs officer from the Arizona Strip District of the BLM.

Changes to the permit system are being evaluated as part of a new business plan, according to Carnahan. A draft of the plan, which will describe the proposal in detail, is slated to be published by the BLM in early 2015. One of the proposed options is to implement a system similar to the one used to distribute permits for the Subway in Zion National Park or Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

She said it is unclear when a final decision will be made since the BLM is still in the early stages of evaluating the process, but that if a new permit plan were to be adopted, it wouldn’t be implemented any earlier than January 2016. A decision would be made jointly by the BLM’s Arizona Strip Office, Kanab field office and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A change in the permit system could have a big impact on local communities like Kanab, where the walk-in lottery brings in as many as 150 people per day.

“We’re going to try to make lemonade out of lemons here, because obviously Kanab… is a small community of about 5,000 people and most of our economy is based on tourism,” said Kane County Office of Tourism director Ken Gotzen-Berg.

He said Kanab and Page, Arizona, which also benefits from traffic to the Wave, have been working with the BLM to make the system more fair to hikers while at the same time protecting their communities. The BLM has offered to promote other hiking adventures in the area on as part of the plan, according to Gotzen-Berg.

“These (permit) applicants coming from all over the world want to do a great hike and they were inspired basically because of the photographs of the Wave,” he said. “Well, here in Southern Utah we have so many other similar experiences to the Wave that are just not as well known. We’re going to make a big push to make these other locations as known through images and photography as the Wave, thereby taking the pressure off of the Wave and spreading it out to the other hikes that are less restrictive.”

Gotzen-Berg said he often visits the Wave lottery and visits with both the winners and losers, who come from all over the world.

“They would come and book a whole vacation to stay in Kanab and every morning go and do this lottery thing, and they’d lose and hopefully find something else to do in the area, but do (the lottery) again the next morning and the next and the next until they got beat up pretty bad,” he said. “We’re trying to hook them up with other experiences so even if they lose the lottery, they’ll walk away saying, ‘Wow, what a fantastic place.’ ”

A restriction on the number of people who can visit the Wave has been in place since 1986, when the area started to become more popular, according to Carnahan. It was congressionally designated as a wilderness area.

Carnahan said the public will be encouraged to submit formal comments about the proposed changes to the permit system after the draft of the business plan is released, but that feedback is always welcome at
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