Sustainable in Sedona: As Tourism Rises, Free City Shuttles Ease Parking Problems

SEDONA — Tourists seeking socially distanced outdoor activities have flocked to Sedona during the pandemic, adding to traffic congestion, noise and air pollution in red rock country. In response, the city accelerated plans to sustainably move people from one Instagramable moment to the next.

In 2020, 3.4 million people visited Sedona, and visitors generated $27 million in fiscal 2021 tax revenue, according to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. But Sedona’s popularity has strained city services, frustrated residents and visitors, and damaged the terrain that draws people here in the first place.

On March 29, the city launched the Sedona Shuttle – a must-have option for getting hikers to popular trailheads where parking is limited.

The two free shuttles run Thursday through Sunday and take visitors to four of the most popular departure points within the city limits: Cathedral Rock, Soldier Pass, Dry Creek and Little Horse. The shuttles pick up passengers from two relay parking lots.

“The Sedona Shuttle Trailhead Routes are just the beginning of a plan to provide a range of transit services that will improve mobility for residents and visitors, reduce traffic and parking congestion, and will help achieve the city’s sustainability goals,” Mayor Sandy Moriarty said at the ribbon. Chopped off.

The program, City Manager Karen Osburn told Cronkite News, exceeded expectations. According to city data, trailhead shuttles saw more than 42,000 riders in the first 22 days of operation. And it’s a lot easier and more satisfying than trying to fight through crowds and find parking, she said.

“Don’t even try to take your vehicle into some of these areas that are so congested that you’ll have to park far from where you’re going,” Osburn said, noting that at several spots at the trailhead, parking isn’t available. available.

She said Sedona “hasn’t been able to get to a point of transit progress up to the pulse of all the visits we’ve seen over the last few years.”

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The task “was big enough that we really had to be aggressive,” she said, adding that during the past spring school break the city was “overloaded with visitors way more than our capacity or our infrastructure could handle. could bear it.”

The city is also working with the US Forest Service and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau to move tourists more sustainably and efficiently.

Amy Tinderholt, a Forest Service ranger, said transportation is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing crowds.

“There are a lot of different ways to think about who visits public lands and what it takes to manage them,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the size of the parking lot, but sometimes it’s how you get people into those areas.”

Tinderholt said the pandemic has shown people how accessible public lands and outdoor recreation in Arizona can be without having to travel too far from home. But many newcomers don’t know how to recreate responsibly, she said, which creates a bigger impact on the earth.

“We are very lucky that more and more people want to be outdoors and want to experience their public lands,” she said. “But what we see are our environmental impacts, there are things like widening of roads, widening of trails, dust and impacts on our range that we see, and then we also see the social impacts, noise, concentrated use, especially in areas where we have nearby residential areas – it really becomes a difficult conflict.

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Off-road recreational tourism is increasing

Off-road recreation has also increased during the pandemic, leading to increased dust from long-term drought and widening of trails from heavy use.

Matt Caldwell is the executive director of the national nonprofit Tread Lightly!, an organization that works with the Forest Service to “balance the needs of people who enjoy outdoor recreation with (the) need to maintain healthy ecosystems and thriving populations of fish and wildlife”. “, according to its website.

Walk lightly! works with other organizations to make off-road vehicle and all-terrain vehicle recreation less harmful to the earth through education and activism. He recently closed off access to a damaged area where off-road drivers steered their vehicles in tight circles into the dirt.

“It’s really about education,” Caldwell said. “We have a lot of new users who have no experience, no history, no experience in how to travel responsibly off-road and in a motorized vehicle…and we need to make people realize that it’s not not responsible (of the vehicle) to go almost anywhere.

Since many trailheads are only accessible through residential neighborhoods, he said, new off-road riders must learn to be responsible to others.

With proper language, signage and education, Caldwell said, anyone can enjoy Sedona’s trails without further damaging the terrain.

“Public lands are a really good outlet and place for recreation because of what we’ve been through in the world for the past two years,” he said. “Do your homework, know what your gear is capable of…then go have fun.”

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What’s next for Sedona tourism?

Tinderholt said the goal is to have the Sedona Shuttle run seven days a week and become the only way to access trailheads within the city limits. Efforts to limit parking along roads include placing stones or erecting fences to prevent cars from leaving the roadway.

“If we can start getting to a place where we close curbside parking and people have a different way of getting to those starting points, that will be a win going forward,” he said. she declared. “It’s really important to the Forest Service that whatever (the transportation alternative) we provide is as fair as possible so that anyone can have a chance to park in these areas and get transportation. in common.”

Osburn said Sedona is designing a transit hub for the Sedona Shuttle, where tourists can change shuttles without having to go to another stop. She also said the city is working on other improvements that will help shuttles move through congested traffic areas more quickly.

“Contemplating a transit system in Sedona has been discussed for a very long time, but it’s a massive undertaking to create a transit system from the ground up,” Osburn said. “The shuttle has been very well received and we just hope to build on its success.”

Christy J. Olson