Hiking the trails in the red rocks of Sedona is a popular reason many visitors travel to the Arizona community. But the traffic caused by those same visitors trying to get to the trailheads has become a major issue in the town.
The Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest is hoping to do something about it.
District officials are floating a proposal to close the parking lots at trailheads in the spring, requiring hikers to take a shuttle to the location instead. The plan is designed to eliminate hundreds of cars from the roads and dozens that are parked dangerously along the sides of roads once the small lots become full.
It’s also an environmental issue, according to Mark Goshorn, who is overseeing the proposal for the district.
“We are still on the northern Sonoran Desert, so it’s a very fragile environment as far as rehabilitation from damage and car tracks and things like that,” Goshorn told The Associated Press. “And for people who are parking within neighborhoods, it’s disrupting the quality of life for the citizens that live there.”
Current parking capacity at the trailheads is extremely limited, with just over 100 spots available at four of the most popular locations. Cathedral Rock (41 spots), Dry Creek (40 spots), Little Horse (20 spots), and Soldier Pass (14 spots) cannot handle the demand, causing hikers’ vehicles to spill over onto side streets and into neighborhoods.
The district’s proposal would have shuttles operating Thursday through Sunday when the highest number of visitors are in town. They would run every 15 to 45 minutes from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Each bus would seat up to 20 passengers.
The plan, Goshorn said, is needed because of the activity and lack of other options in town.
“For whatever reason, Sedona doesn’t really have a presence for ride share, for Uber or Lyft,” he said.
Officials are currently seeking public comment on the plan. They told the Red Rock News that the plan was selected with neighborhoods in mind.
“Our focus, at least in this phase, has been on trailheads adjacent to our residential neighborhoods where we’re seeing the largest negative impacts like oversubscription of parking on streets and safety concerns,” said Lauren Browne, a communications manager for the town.
Where the shuttle would pick up and drop off passengers, and the cost to ride, have yet to be decided.
Neighbors of the impacted areas are enthusiastic about the plan but skeptical about whether hikers will actually use the service if it is implemented.
“I think it would be a good idea if people use it because would take a lot of traffic away from the parking lots,” Sedona resident John Baker told AP. “People like to drive their cars and stay in their cars, and I think there might be an issue with them wanting to use transportation to get to their trailheads.”
A full overview of the proposal and links to comment on the plan are available on the forest service website.
According to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the town had 3.4 million visitors in 2020, with that number increasing in 2021 as visitors look for outdoor, day trip options during the pandemic.
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