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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: April 27, 2016

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Wave goodbye?

The Wave hike lottery may see some changes. Photo by Angelina Randall.


By Dixie Brunner

Many local citizens, motel and hotel owners, restaurant establishments, grocery stores, tourism-related shops and services, as well as off-road tour operators, are against the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to change how the iconic Wave lottery is offered to the public.

Instead of offering the public the current mix of online permit and Kanab walk-in daily permit lottery, the proposed change would go to an online-only system.

Local opponents charge the proposal would devastate the local economy! Many tourists come here to seek the Wave permits, along with those of Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon. The hope of getting one while the tourist is here, is a gamble.

But that gamble is indeed good for local businesses. If a tourist hangs in Kanab or surrounding areas to wait for lottery selection, they usually stay, spend money on food, and tour other nearby tourist sights for a couple of days. Those interested in hiking and sightseeing in more unaccessible terrain often book other off-road tours.

Why would the Arizona Bureau of Land Management consider the change then?

“We’re trying to get a more progressive efficient system in place,” said Tim Burke, Bureau of Land Management Arizona Strip District Manager (UT and AZ). The management area is roughly 2.8 million acres, including Vermillion Cliffs and Grand Canyon/Parashunt National Monuments, and other wilderness areas in the northwest corner of Arizona.

It’s an enormous area with some of the most amazing rock formations and geology in the world. What used to be too remote for visitors has become more desirable to hikers and adventurers, especially with the availability of off road tour guides and services.

Will James, of Dreamland Safaris in Kanab, said the nearby access to permits account for 30-50% of his business. He provides off-road tours to a variety of remote locations in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

Local tour operators like James, Yermo Welch of Seeking Treasure Adventure out of Big Water, Kyle Walker of Circle Tours, Fredonia, and interested citizen Don Sprecher, who occasionally gets permits for Amangiri as well as several other tour operators, also want to leave the permit system the way it is. Their clients are largely dependent on the Kanab walk-in permits, as well as their overall concern for the impact on local economies.

“This is a lifeblood issue for Kanab,” said James. “We believe the revenues lost will be over $12 million locally. While the tour operators have been diligent on opposing the change, it seems everyone else has been asleep at the wheel.”

At the Kane County Commission meeting on April 25, Chairman Dirk Clayson said the commission had e-mailed Burke, saying the change was in harmony with what Kane County wants. During the meeting Clayson went on to explain that they had also asked for more permits to the Wave be allowed.

Clay Stewart, BLM Recreation Planner for the Arizona Strip and GSENM, told of what had happened up until now on the new plan. The draft plan was put together, and there were two different public comment periods. He stressed that nothing has been determined yet. He said that the Arizona Resource Advisory Council (RAC) was in charge of hearing and considering the plan, then making a recommendation. (A meeting was held in Phoenix on April 27.) He said the main reason was a fee increase for three resource areas, as well as the permit delivery system. He said the 100% online change allows for permittees to cancel their plans and get a refund. There would also be a weighted lottery for the previously unsuccessful applicants.

“It is expected Kanab would still be the hub for the Wave,” said Stewart. “Visitors for North and South Coyote Butte areas would pick up permits only here.We want to keep people in the region.”

So the new plan is that successful online applicants would be able to get here on 48 hour notice. How quick can you get to Las Vegas and then on to Kanab? You could fly from New York if you had a time frame like that.

What people against the new system are asking, would Kanab be your hub with that system?

We would all have to say, ‘probably not.’

And what numbers are we talking about the way it is done now? Kanab walk-in applicants to the Wave in 2013 totalled 826. Economic numbers from the county said those folks each spend $282.50 in a 24 hour period in the local economy.

In 2014, there were 21,500 walk-ins. And it only gets better in 2015 ... when 24,682 came to Kanab for walk-in permits. The issue will soon be settled. The Arizona RAC had its meeting in Phoenix on April 27. They will advise the state director on what they think should happen.

But, the final decision lies in the hands of Lorraine Christian of the Arizona Strip Field Office, according to Burke. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s governing directive for ‘Gateway Communities’ will also be followed.

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