Zion National Park: New restrictions on canyon hiking

Image copyright EUTERS Image caption Once the boat is there, the steps will lead hikers into the rock area.

It is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the US – but Zion National Park officials say hikers cannot come without a permit.

Previously, a permit was not required to trek from the Harney Caves to the Canyon Bridge Trail.

But for the first time in Zion’s 70-year history, a permit is now needed to hike the suspension bridge.

Steve Russell, manager of the park’s public affairs, told the BBC they created the permit policy to reduce the number of hikers who frequent the trail, at the same time as improving it.

In February, there were more than 5,000 entries on a reservation system set up for the canyon. Mr Russell said that the largest number of visitors found themselves on the wrong side of the trail or between the zipline and the bridge, where there was no way to turn back.

“It was having an adverse effect on the way the public was accessing the canyon,” Mr Russell said.

The plan to move hikers from the trail was first implemented in the 1980s. Until recently, anyone with a photo ID, can come into the canyon, up the stairs and onto the road to the bridge.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption It is one of the most popular spots in Zion National Park

After April, only holders of credentials approved by the park or the National Park Service can access the trail. Those credentials include a 7-day, 14-day, 28-day or 365-day badge that provides access.

Every year the park loses about $1m as a result of visitors who occupy resources by getting too close to the Canyon Bridge.

Mr Russell said the park would need to hire more workers to make up for the lost revenue.

That money would also have to be used to move people further away from the suspension bridge as the park’s reservation system is struggling to meet the demand.

Beyond the money, he said the new restrictions on the trail were necessary because of concerns about human health and safety.

The new system has met with a mixture of praise and disappointment from hikers, who feel the permit system restricts access to a popular route.

Danny Quayle was among those who passed the required photographs, in addition to a work visa, before walking the winding lava rock path to the top of the canyon.

The US army veteran said the restrictions are “necessary”.

“You can’t walk up to the top and not start rethinking about who’s in this.”

But one visitor, who declined to give his name, said he was not sure the new system was necessary to promote safety.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The hike is 20 miles round trip

“Do you know anyone who’s ever been injured, in that long, grueling walk?” he asked.

“It’s a challenging hike. Even the most able-bodied people will get discouraged. And if you end up getting cut off from the car at any point, it’s going to be a mission of error.”

Mr Russell countered by saying that Zion is doing its best to make the hike more accessible.

The park is planning to try a number of things to make the hike safer, including adding specialized rafts for hikers who want to keep their pace.

The hikers will also be able to use a smaller loop that stays within the trail to the canyon. The loop does not include the suspension bridge and a total distance of 22 miles (35km).

Cinema visitors will be able to see parts of the climb on a virtual reality experience that has been put together by British software firm Origin VR.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption It is the creation of a giant cartoon dinosaur

Visitors will be able to start their trek at the Elephant Loop campground or the on the rim of the canyon.

The route begins at the border of Point Lake on the northern end of the canyon and ends on the rim of the canyon about 20 miles (32km) from the horse park.

The distance covered by the hike will vary depending on whether the hikers are making the hike in the spring or fall.

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