As Sedona’s Allure Enthralls Visitors, They Need to Know Our Values



May 14, 2021

This land is your land. This land is my land.
Woody Guthrie

I love this song. Its lyrics ring true as Sedona grapples with our growing popularity amidst a global pandemic. Sedona calls to people from all over – often again and again – until many move here permanently.

Surrounded by national forests and other public lands, Sedona embodies the uniquely American idea of National Parks, wherein nature’s most special places are preserved and open to everyone. “America’s best idea,” filmmaker Ken Burns entitled his documentary on the subject. As Woody wrote, “This land was made for you and me.”

Helping protect public lands is a Sedona hallmark, embodied in the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan. But it is far from a modern idea. Congress established Yellowstone National Park 140 years ago, setting aside more than 3,000 square miles of land for public enjoyment. Pre-pandemic, Yellowstone averaged just over 4 million visitors a year.

Population Growth Keeps Sedona Popular. We Must Communicate, Educate.

We also attract millions every year, which will never change as Phoenix continues to be the fastest-growing city in the country and the US population increases. Traffic concerns have been with us since people started coming here.

The City of Sedona, with no practical authority over its thoroughfares (SR179 and 89A are state-owned), is doing its best with Sedona in Motion programs. Pilot initiatives to alleviate congestion at trailheads and create an on-demand micro-transit system for 89A are slated for March 2022, ahead of spring break and the Easter holiday season.

The City Council and chamber are finalizing an FY22 tourism management plan and budget as our economy, revived by the travel and tourism industry, continues to flourish. Fact-free assertions that pausing a relatively modest marketing effort (less than 1% of the City’s budget) will somehow affect traffic is illogical.

The issue is not whether we should communicate to visitors. Of course, we should. The question is what to communicate to them.

Our Values are our Message

The answer is to state our values firmly and establish the visitor behavior we expect. Before they leave home, visitors need to hear our message:

> Sedona is a fragile resource to be always respected; take the Sedona Cares Pledge.
> Sedonans are serious about a sustainable lifestyle that minimizes environmental impacts. Leave No Trace.
> To our new urban visitors, explore the outdoors, but recreate responsibly.

Managing visitor behavior is one reason mature destinations such as Greater Yellowstone, where I came from, can welcome millions and still be beautiful and sustainable. The chamber is poised to support Sedona in the next phase of our evolution by reaching out to visitors so they help alleviate – not worsen – traffic, trash and trailhead congestion. Visitors need to understand their responsibility to our community as they recreate on our public lands.

By setting a high bar for visitor behavior and leading by example, we can honor America’s commitment to “public lands for public use” while preserving our quality of life and irreplaceable natural environment.

This land was made for you and me. 

-Candace Carr Strauss,