LAS VEGAS (AP) — Federal land managers are considering several ways to address overcrowding at a scenic natural area about a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.
Entrance fee station upgrades, a dedicated entrance and exit for taxis and ride-hailing services and a cutoff road to return motorists to the visitor center without driving an entire 13-mile (21-kilometer) one-way loop are among options being studied, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Officials say they're also working to boost cellphone coverage and provide public Wi-Fi service at the visitor center and fee station.
Red Rock Canyon visitor numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, topping 3 million in 2018. Before 2013, it had never logged 2 million in a year.
The area offers hiking trails and rock-climbing routes amid 3,000-foot (914-meter) red and white sandstone cliffs, shade-sheltered canyons with waterfalls, Native American petroglyphs and a geologic feature called the Keystone Thrust Fault.
"Any beautiful Saturday could create an explosion of people," said Andy Hart, executive director of the Southern Nevada Conservancy, a nonprofit partner with the government at the conservation area.
"I think everybody who cares about Red Rock Canyon is paying attention to this capacity and congestion issue," Hart said. "We want visitors to have a good experience."
About half of visitors use the Scenic Drive "fee area," which represents about 10% of Red Rock's overall land area of more than 312 square miles (808 square kilometers).
Crowds prompt closures of the 13-mile Scenic Drive almost every weekend when the weather is good, parking lots fill and traffic at fee gates backs up to state Route 159, bureau spokesman John Asselin said.
Officials say the proposed 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) shortcut would improve Scenic Drive traffic flow and provide better emergency vehicle access. The cost was estimated several years ago at about $800,000.
Catrina Williams, Red Rock field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, said officials might consider a seasonal shuttle system like ones that operate at Zion and Grand Canyon national parks. But she said that would also require building a large central parking lot.
Longtime local conservationist John Hiatt said funding and land use restrictions limit any possible response to the crowding problem. Hiatt played a role expanding Red Rock in the early 1990s.
"Essentially what's happening at Red Rock is the same thing that's happening at Grand Canyon and Zion and other popular parks in the West: rapidly increasing visitation and decreasing budgets," Hiatt said.
Red Rock Canyon has a permanent federal staff of about 15 people. The Southern Nevada Conservancy provides another 40 paid employees and volunteers, mostly to staff fee booths and visitor center gift shop.
The conservancy recently helped fund and produce a capacity study by the Great Basin Institute, a Reno-based environmental research and conservation group.
The full report has not been released, but an executive summary identifies the busiest times as late March and early April, Thanksgiving week and other holidays and fee-free days.
Asselin said Red Rock's management team plans to release the entire study in coming weeks, once a decision about capacity concerns is made.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com
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