CEDAR RAPIDS — With surging popularity in the National Park System straining the natural resources and hampering visitor experiences, a group of University of Iowa business students recently examined crowding and recommended solutions at Arches National Park in Utah — one of the nation’s most popular parks.
Jade Manternach of Monticello, Cory Shultz of Iowa City, Jason Woodruff of Lake Bluff, Ill., and Kevin Greening of Detroit, Mich., — all second-year students in the Tippie College of Business full-time Master of Business Administration program this spring — served as consultants for the National Park Service.
They were asked to develop strategies for dealing with tour buses in Arches. The large vehicles were creating backlogs for other visitors on the limited and narrow roads and parking lots, the volume of passengers were eroding trails, and safety hazards had arisen due to lack of preparedness.
“As more and more companies are applying for commercial use licenses, it’s harder and harder for parks to figure out and manage it,” Manternach, 26, said of not just tour buses, but guide services, photography companies and others capitalizing on the demand to see the natural beauties.
Manternach worked last summer for the park service at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, collecting information on how private operators were using the park. The experience led to the opportunity this spring, which included a five-day visit to Arches in April during which the students collected data and interviewed numerous stakeholders.
Arches, a 76,000-acre park in eastern Utah near Moab known for more than 2,000 ancient red-rock sandstone arches, had seen attendance nearly double in the past 10 years to 1.7 million visits in 2018. It’s the nation’s 15th most visited national park, and is outpacing national park usage growth, which has climbed 11 percent in 10 years to about 320 million visitors, according to federal data.
The students realized assumptions about “an overwhelming number of buses” were more perception than reality when in fact rarely more than 12 buses entered Arches in a day and many days no buses entered, according to UI information. However, the buses were causing a disproportionate number of problems.
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The students developed a series of strategies aimed at monitoring the buses, drivers and passengers.
First, they recommended a one-page map in multiple languages for guides and bus drivers indicating where stops are and are not allowed, and a series reminders to carry water — dehydration and heat-related symptoms are among the most common health problems in the desert-like environment — not leave buses idling in parking lots, and recommendations for passengers to not go off on hikes without a licensed guide.
Second, park rangers brief each bus before entry, explaining expectations of visitors and bus drivers and warn of dangers. Finally, each bus would display a QR code in its windshield to track policy violations to use to inform bus operators of issues and help staff determine if an operator’s license should be renewed, according to university information.
Manternach said park staff were receptive to the recommendations, and she plans to follow up this summer to see what affect they are having.
“It is really a special place to work,” she said. “People are passionate about the end goal. It is really great to work with that caliber of people who care about their work, the park and protecting natural resources.”
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