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Capacity Study

While a capacity study, in itself, can do nothing to solve the traffic issues that face Oak Creek Canyon, it will be the policies and changes that are made because of the information obtained from the capacity study that will help solve them. These policies and changes should be the result of a collaboration among all canyon stakeholder agencies. The requested agency letters will be used to show support for the capacity study and will be an important inclusion in the request for grant funding.

Currently in Oak Creek Canyon, the 89A scenic highway causes congestion and inconvenience for residents and visitors, alike. While traffic is a concern, the more pressing issues are the impacts of traffic on the safety, security, and environment in the canyon. This narrow passageway causes great concern for emergency response time for accidents and fire, and the congestion leads to parking violations and inappropriate garbage disposal in the area, which has been shown to leach into the water supply. Management deficits in the canyon are heightened because of tourism through and from the destination of Sedona, and the strains on the resources provided by Coconino County, the Arizona Department of Transportation, US Forest Service, and State Parks have been readily observed by residents.

Many solutions have been proposed. However, without an accurate capacity study, there is no way of factually understanding the best solutions. Many governmental departments, including the Department of Public Safety, Department of Law Enforcement, and Department of Fire Protection, can all benefit from a capacity study in Oak Creek Canyon. Utilizing the information from this study may even have positive long term effects on the budgets of these departments[1] and a more favorable area for both residents and visitors by protecting the quality of this unique and beautiful place. 

Some of the information that may/would/should come out of the capacity study:

  • Peak traffic days and time in the canyon.

  • Visitor capacity for individual recreational sites throughout the canyon.  (not all sites can accommodate the same number of visitors) Number of parking spaces necessarily available at these sites to control capacity and distribute visitors more evenly throughout the canyon.

  • The kinds of facilities needed at these recreational sites... restrooms, trash cans, signage, picnic tables, etc.

  • The kinds of access to the creek from the parking area that should be provided?  A safe walking path, dirt, or paved trail. 

  • The degree of management that can be done by volunteers

  • The minimum presence needed by state agencies in the canyon

  • Clear identification of the public recreation sites and private property.  How to reduce the amount of private property trespassing. 

  • Sufficient capacity information to help create a more effective canyon emergency evacuation plan. 

More technically, a capacity study will help all stakeholders establish the maximum number of visitors for the purposes of strategic management on three different levels. These levels are physical carrying capacity (the maximum number of visitors that can physically fit into a defined area over a particular time), real carrying capacity (the maximum permissible number of visits to a specific site), and effective carrying capacity (the maximum number of visits that a site can sustain considering the recreation and the management capacity). Assessing these three types of carrying capacities can lead to science based decision-making processes and benefit management, government, residents, and visitors in Oak Creek Canyon.

In conclusion, a study to understand the carrying capacity in Oak Creek Canyon can have many benefits for the community and environment in the area. While great progress has occurred over the past several years, there remains a lack of adequate information in regards to the appropriate amount of people that the canyon can empirically and safely hold.  Governmental departments can not only benefit monetarily from a capacity study in Oak Creek Canyon, but these institutions may benefit from favorable resident sentiments by supporting the Traffic Matter’s effort to initiate a capacity study.

[1] The goal is to better understand where/how to use/spend resources in a strategic way, and know how to be proactive instead of reactive. The study will likely have a positive long term outcome on the departments' budgets because they will know where to place the appropriate resources, rather than responding to each situation as it comes. It is possible, too, that by being strategic and working with stakeholders to produce the solutions, the emergency response services may be utilized less because the canyon would ideally be safer after the initiatives are implemented.

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