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Popular National Park Site To Be Reservation-Only

The grove of redwood trees at Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, north of San Francisco, sees about 1 million visitors a year, and the roads around it can no longer handle the crush. As many as 1,000 cars can jam the small parking lot and overflowing vehicles line the road shoulder. Getting in to see one of America's most serene wonders can be worse than finding a spot at the mall on Christmas Eve.

A proposed deal between the county and the National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which manages the site, sets new terms for visiting the site: A new reservation system would reduce daily visitors from the current 6,000 in peak times to somewhere between 2,800 and 4,500 guests at a time. Within seven years, all parking on the road leading into the site would be forbidden.

That timetable is in question, but every side seems to agree on the meat of the proposal itself. A few years ago, the federal government proposed building a satellite parking lot, but the people who live nearby objected, and the reservations system was the compromise. Now fewer people will enjoy the park.

It won't be not the only National Park site that requires advance registration. Alcatraz, in San Francisco, requires them for its ferries, and spots are snapped up weeks in advance.

The National Park system does not always manage its reservations systems well. Last weekend in Danville, CA, the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, which also requires a reservation on most days, closed the park to visitors on its only weekly non-reservation day, but without notifying them ahead of time via its mobile website. Visitors arrived at the shuttle point and were turned away by a hastily printed paper sign.

The reservation system at Muir Woods is being promoted as a profit center for an as-yet-undetermined vendor. Costs are expected to be associated with them.