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Southern Utah News Front Page: June 20, 2019
Last chance to send in comments on The Wave
Even with only 20 permits a day, it can get congested at the pinnacle of the hike, “The Wave.” Photo by Brent Chamberlain.
By Mark Havnes
Last month a meeting took place where six owners of tour guide businesses in the Kanab area got together and unanimously voted to oppose a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to potentially increase the number of daily hikers allowed at the Wave.
The seven-mile round trip trail through mind-boggling undulations of sandstone full of magnificent flora, fauna and geologic wonders has become increasingly popular to the unique site through social media.
The area is in the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area on the Utah-Arizona state line just east of Kanab. According to the guides, it is a sensitive area that would be diminished by increasing the number of daily hikers from the current 20 to as many as 96, which has been proposed.
The public has until Friday, June 21, to comment on potential changes.
As it currently stands, hikers must apply for a permit to hike the area through a lottery system. Ten permits a day are issued electronically via a lottery through the BLM office in St. George, and 10 more to those who show up daily at the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab. Permits are issued to single individuals or in groups of up to five individuals.
The popular route on some days has as many as 400 people descending on the Kanab visitor center seeking a coveted permit.
BLM spokeswoman Rachel Carnahan said public pressure has facilitated a new look at the numbers.
Yermo Welsh, who owns Seeking Treasure Adventures guide service, said an increase in the numbers could have a devastating effect on the fragile areas that are already showing signs of human impact.
“It is concept versus reality,” said Welsh, who charges visitors up to $220 to guide them on tours of the Wave. He said he knows of at least five people who have died taking the hike from heat exhaustion and dehydration, often after straying from the trail. He stressed the general public needs to know of the severity of the hike.
“People get it on their bucket list, and just have to go on the hike,” Welsh said.
In addition to safety issues, a number increase would mean more litter, pet waste and an increase in cars parking in the area, which is the trailhead to other popular hikes including Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.
Welsh said hikers are already leaving indelible marks on the terrain, from those hiking with metal poles and even crampons. Additional signage in the area would likely increase changing the area’s wilderness characteristics, and tensions would possibly rise among visitors competing for choice positions to take pictures.
People have also been known to mark the trail with rock cairns, that could be wrong, and potentially lead other hikers astray.
He said one person taking the hike, and then raving about the experience on social media, gives readers just one experience under one set of circumstances, that is out of context with the larger picture.
Welsh said even though more people to guide would mean more money for guides, more people would also diminish the wilderness qualities the Wave is known for, and be detrimental to business over the long haul.
Carnahan said the proposal would increase recreational opportunities and is in response to the public requesting the numbers be increased so more people can experience the resource.
“We haven’t looked into the potential for an increase since 2002,” said Carnahan, adding that an increase is allowed under the area’s current resource management plan, but has never been used,
She said information gathered at several public meetings since May 8 and comments sent to the BLM will be evaluated and a set of alternatives formed.
Public hearings and comments on the alternatives will be held before a final decision.
Comments on the current proposal can be sent via e-mail to the BLM at: email@example.com. Please include Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Comments in subject line.
Comments may also be mailed to BLM, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah 84790, attention Brandon Boshell, or faxed to 435-688-3258.