Despite its rugged appearance of sandstone pinnacles and arches, the ecosystem of Arches National Park in Utah, U.S.A. is very fragile. Beyond the normal ‘high desert’ environment, this beautiful landscape is home to microbial communities in the soil called cryptobiotic crusts. These biological soil crusts are very vulnerable to damage and when harmed they can take years to grow back. These barren patches are then much more likely to experience erosion, flooding, dust storms and invasion by non-native species.
Because of this, it is important to limit the potential damage caused by visitors, which is challenging due to the increasing number of visitors to the Park. When Arches was first created as a National Monument in 1929 it had around 500 visitors per year, and later, when it became a National Park in 1971 that number had increased to over 200,000 visitors per year. In 2018, that number passed 1.6 million visitors, drawn to the natural beauty of the park, most of them visiting during the summer. To help protect this unique environment, visitors are advised to stay on the established trails and more than anything:
‘Don’t walk on the crypto!’
By Hazel Gibson, EGU Communications Officer
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