by Rachel Carnahan, BLM
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced on Jan. 11 it has approved a proposal to expand visitor access to the world-famous geologic feature known as the Wave, located in the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the Arizona Strip. Under the new decision, the number of hiking permits issued for the Wave will increase from 20 to 64 people and/or 16 groups per day, whichever comes first. The online lottery will fill 48 spots and the walk-in lottery in Kanab will offer 16 people and/or four groups. The BLM could implement further increases or decreases in the future based on monitoring of resources and social conditions.
Implementation for both lottery systems will begin February 1.
“The stunning beauty of the Wave is part of every American’s public lands heritage, and we’re honored to protect and manage it for generations to come,” said Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor.
“This effort provides for additional safety for visitors, access to our nation’s veterans, and ensures that in times like the COVID-19 pandemic, the American people have expanded access to recreational opportunities on their public lands.”
“The Wave is one of the world’s most incredible and visually stunning natural wonders,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond. “We’re pleased to be able to expand options for public viewing of this amazing landscape in a way that’s consistent with its preservation.”
“We conducted robust environmental analysis and worked in collaboration with partners and interested stakeholders in an effort to allow more visitors access to the Wave, while maintaining wilderness character,” said BLM Arizona State Director Ray Suazo. “I appreciate the close collaboration with Coconino County in Arizona and Kane and Washington Counties in Utah in managing this important natural area.”
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Arizona Strip District on all aspects of the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and Wave management. The Kanab Field Office will continue to run the next day lottery in an efficient and respectful manner,” said BLM Utah State Director Greg Sheehan. “This decision provides additional safety for visitors and will hopefully decrease the workload on Kane County’s already-busy search and rescue personnel.”
“The Kane County Sheriff’s Office has been working closely with our federal partners at the Bureau of Land Management to improve the safety of visitors at the Wave. As visitation and interest has dramatically increased, the permit process has become more complex. We appreciate the leadership shown by the BLM on this safety issue. Improving the safety and overall experience of visitors here is clearly a shared priority. As the Kane County Sheriff, I feel very fortunate to have such a positive cooperative relationship with the Bureau of Land Management. We share a sincere love of public lands and a responsibility to those that visit. A big thank you from my office to folks at the BLM for recognizing this issue and working to solve difficult problems,” said Kane County Sheriff Tracy Glover.
“Coconino County supports this decision to increase visitor access to the Wave in a manner that will preserve and protect the natural and scenic wonders of this landscape,” said Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler. “We are excited about the opportunities for economic growth in our local communities that comes with this increase in recreational tourism.”
“The Wave has become one of the most iconic and recognizable destinations in the world. Increased visitation and associated tourism is a vital part of the Kane County economy. The desire to visit the Wave has created some complex management concerns. These concerns have required a great deal of coordination between Kane County, the DOI and local BLM managers. Kane County sincerely appreciates the efforts put forth by key DOI and BLM officials who took interest in this issue and worked hard for a rapid resolution. Because of these efforts, visitors will be safer and have a better overall experience as they enjoy the beauty of public lands in our area,” said Kane County Commissioner Andy Gant.
The decision supports Secretary’s Order 3347, Conservation Stewardship and Outdoor Recreation, and Secretary’s Order 3366, Increasing Recreational Opportunities on Lands and Waters Managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It strikes an appropriate balance by responding to the public’s increased interest in visiting the site while minimizing environmental impacts and maintaining wilderness values. This will be accomplished though an adaptive management framework that is outlined in the Final Environmental Assessment. The framework provides the BLM the ability to make adjustments to meet desired conditions based on monitoring at the site.
Public interest in the Wave has grown exponentially in recent years. In 2018, more than 200,000 individuals applied for the 7,300 hiking permits available annually to access the site. With only 20 people allowed each day through both the online and walk-in lotteries, only 3.6 percent of applicants were able to obtain a permit to access the Wave. This prompted the BLM to explore options for expanding visitor access in a manner that protects the character of the site and its unique natural features.
While the increase in visitors at the Wave (a feature which is less than half the size of a football field) will be apparent to hikers, there are ample opportunities for solitude that are available away from the main route and outside of the Wave within the more than 112,500 acres of the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Additional wilderness values including primitive and unconfined recreation, natural sights and sounds, remoteness, freedom, risk, and the physical and emotional challenges of self-discovery and self-reliance can be enjoyed on the route to and at the Wave.
The BLM’s Final Environmental Assessment and Decision Record approving the change are posted on BLM’s ePlanning website at: https://go.usa.gov/xyxtK. Learn more about visiting the Wave or the online permit system on our website at: www.blm.gov/TheWave.