Traveler's View: National Park Service Should Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth At Bryce Canyon

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Bryce Canyon officials have a great opportunity to welcome -- not drive off -- private equestrians. NPS file photo.

My father-in-law, a Wyoming-bred cowboy who knows a thing or two about riding a horse, would hesitate if told he needed a guide to lead him through Bryce Canyon National Park...and then turn on his booted heel when told that would cost him $100.

But that's what visitors who travel with their horses, or mules, could encounter at the canyon-sculpted national park in southern Utah if Bryce Canyon officials move forward with a plan to require visitors with their own horses to pay a local guide for the privilege of riding in the park.

With nothing more than anecdotal stories about horses not getting along with other horses, the park is poised to provide Canyon Trail Rides with a new revenue stream...if equestrians are willing to pay up.

Under the plan, a lone rider with horse would have to pay $100 for the guiding service. Two riders would be charged $165, three riders $200, four riders $235, five riders $265, six riders $295 and seven riders $320.

Those fees, once you approach four riders, are somewhat comparable to the concessionaire's per-person charge for their trail rides: $60 per person for a two-hour ride and $80 per person for a half-day ride. But the concessionaire's trail ride fees also have to go to the overhead of their string of horses, accompanying tack, horse trailers, corrals, and stables.

Private parties have their own horses, saddles, etc., so it doesn't seem as if there is additional overhead for the concessionaire, outside of calling in an additional guide, who would be paid by the private riders.

Park officials attribute the need for this guiding service to "avoid trail conflicts and ensure the safety of all users on the park’s steep, narrow trails. Those trails offer limited space for stock groups to pass. When unfamiliar groups of stock pass each other they can spook."

During a phone call Friday, Bryce Canyon Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said, "This is a situation where we’re trying to be proactive based on things that have been reported to us from the field, principally from (concession) wranglers.”

"We’re concerned about visitor safety. The way our trails are laid out, there’s opportunities for experienced folks on horses bringing their private stock in to the park to run head-long into the concessionaire trail ride groups," he added.

Now, unfortunately, park officials don't have any documentation of specific conflicts between private riders and concession-led rides, no list of injured riders -- private or concession-led -- to demonstrate whether there's a safety problem, other than the wranglers' mention of private groups going the wrong way on trails.

There have been injuries on trail rides but, again, apparently no documentation as to whether they were on concession-led rides or involving private riders, or a combination of both.

When you look at the numbers -- just 85 private equestrians have ridden all or part of Bryce Canyon's 8 miles of horse trails since August 2011, vs. "thousands" of concession-led riders who have -- it doesn't seem like there are enough private riders on the trails to create much of a problem.

That said, it also would seem like the park has a golden opportunity to not only embrace private riders, but also restore some Western lore to the park.

Rather than forcing private equestrians to pay a guide to lead them on trail rides, Bryce Canyon should seize the marketing and PR value of having rangers saddle up to lead rides much as they lead hikes, for free. That way not only are the private riders spared a pretty hefty fee for an 8-mile ride, but rangers have a golden opportunity for reaching out, rather, than alienating, a decidedly small but nevertheless welcome visitor group.

After all, as the park points out on its website, "Bryce Canyon is a wonderful place to ride horseback! Some visitors enjoy bringing their own riding stock into the park to enjoy the breathtaking views one can experience from the back of a horse or mule."

Comments

As a person who likes to ride horses and visit national parks, I think Bryce Canyon's proposed idea is very poorly thought-out. Frankly, if I'm experienced enough to haul my own horses to a park and ride them, I certainly don't need someone else to show me the trails and babysit me. As a wrangler who leads riders (on our horses) into a national park, I think Bryce Canyon's proposed idea is very poorly thought-out. If they're really that worried about private horse groups interacting with concessionaire horse groups, they can revamp their guidelines and encourage visiting private riders to be courteous and smart when riding around rank beginners. After all, it seems very true that if "just 85 private equestrians have ridden all or part of Bryce Canyon's 8 miles of horse trails since August 2011, vs. "thousands" of concession-led riders who have -- it doesn't seem like there are enough private riders on the trails to create much of a problem." From what's being reported, it sounds like the idea is very heavily based on purely anecdotal evidence shared by wranglers...who work for a private concessionaire...which perhaps wants to own the whole damn pie. Canyon Trail Rides already has cornered the horse ride market with Bryce, Zion, & the Grand Canyon. Frankly, you can't control everyone, so don't be greedy and make a national park experience even more regulated than it already is.
Based on anecdotal reports from the concessionaires themselves. No chance of _their_ self interest being involved in what they say, eh?
Julie Trevelyan, thoughtful comment and I agree. Having had some experience with concessionaire rides on narrow trails, where the stock going up meets stock coming down, well it can be a discombobulating situation. It seems to me, and it worked well in Yosemite, that the private stock person just be told of the concessionaire schedule in those spots where there maybe conflicts, then everyone adjust their schedule accordingly. Worked well in Yosemite. Again, I might not be familiar with all the ins and outs here, but a 100.00 concession fee seems totally unrealistic, actually quite outrageous in my view.
The fee seems very high. I wonder if snowmobile owners feel the same way about Yellowstone requiring a guide? Is the park worried that the owners of horses will go places they shouldn't?
Actually, Yellowstone DOES require that a licensed guide be with all snowmobile parties. Only four-stroke machines are allowed inside the park. That means that probably few snowmobile owners may ride their own machines because most own 2-strokers -- but they still must be guided. The reason is that it seemed to be the only way to regulate some snowmobile jockeys who insisted on blasting off trail and chasing elk and bison. In the years this has been in effect, support for it has been overwhelming. Even some avid snowmobilers I know fully support it because it was either this or a ban on snowmobiles because of the foolishness of a few. But horses at Bryce? I don't know about that one. Based on what little I've been able to learn, it looks like a hand-out to the concessionaire. Again I need to ask, where is the pressure behind this coming from?
This really sounds like flawed data. I go down to the Bryce area almost yearly with my horses, we are usually in a group of 5-15 riders when we go. I have talked to many other folks who have also made the trip. I just don't see how they can say that only 85 private horses have entered the park in the past 3 years. The various folks I've ridden with have made up a third or half of that number. I can't believe nobody else has ridden in the park. Some how the accounting is skewed. In my multiple trips to the park we have never had a problem with the guides and their clients. I just check with them as we start our ride and make sure what time they will be on the trail and make sure we are on a different section at that time. But even if I did encounter them on the trail. The rules have always been that the private stock owners back up and move up a side trail so the guide and his clients can pass. We expect the private stock owners to be more horse savey and better able to handle their private horses than the tourist on his first horse ride on a horse he has never seen before. This is just pure money grabbing by the concessionaire and the park service who get a percentage of all money the concessionaire takes in. If the outfitter and park service really feel this is problem. Lets reduce the number of days the guides can ride in the park from seven days to five days and let the private stock ride in the park on the two remaining days. The Bryce Canyon are has way more riding OUTSIDE the park than the short 8 mile ride on the Peek-a-boo trail. When I go do to ride, We ride 2-3 days with only 4-5 hours of that time spend inside Bryce Canyon Park. This is true of the Outfitter also, I see them guiding clients on trails on nearby Forest Service and BLM land. Is this not as much of a problem on the Forest Service land as is on Park Service land? I can honestly say, that if this rule goes into effect. I will stop visiting Bryce Canyon and Ruby's Inn.
I am a member of the local Back Country Horsemen of Utah, the Canyon Country Chapter in Escalante, Utah, and we are appalled at this new regulation. It's implementation, however, is being postponed for 30 days while the Park receives public comments'(a procedure that should have been done prior to this announcement.) In any case, I urge everyone to please write, email and/or call Bryce to express your views on this. I hope with enough negative comments they will not implement this ridiculous policy. You can email Brca_information@NPS.gov or jeff_stock@NPS.gov (he is the Park's concessionaire manager). You can also call Jeff Bradybaugh, the Park superintendent at 435-834-4700 to express you views.
Lee I agree with your comments. The only reason I compared it to snowmobiles was to wonder if unguided horseman have gone where they shouldn't. The new rules seem odd without a reason and meeting on the trail head on seems minor.