A two-year process laying the foundation for use and preservation decisions through the year 2005 at Arches National Park has entered the final stage.

The National Park Service recently released its draft general management plan, development concept plan and environmental assessment of Arches. The public has until April 14 to comment.Responses will be considered by the planning team as part of recommended revisions for the final management and development plan, which is expected to be completed before the year ends, said Paul Guraedy, Arches superintendent.

Team members include Guraedy and Harvey Wickware, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group (Arches, Canyonlands and Natural Bridges National Monument).

The 170-page draft plan, calling for new studies, proj-ects and facilities at a cost of more than $14 million, was compiled at the Denver Service Center of the National Park Service and distributed by mail Feb. 13. Copies are available at the park and at federal offices in Moab.

The plan ultimately requires approval by the secretary of the interior.

"I would like to stress that this is the final stage in the process as far as the general public is concerned," Guraedy said in a letter accompanying the document. "Your response will assist us in . . . preservation and use of Arches National Park through the rest of this century."

Guraedy said the document presents the Park Service's "preferred alternative" among five management and development plans offered for public consideration in 1987.

Visitation at the park is increasing steadily, each year breaking previous records. Since 1978, visitation has increased by 43 percent. Last year, more than half a million people visited Arches, and officials project a 36 percent increase by the year 2005.

The draft includes one plan to proceed only with proj-ects that meet minimum requirements for life-safety and natural resource protection and another to develop and manage the 73,379-acre park according to the preferred alternative.

The preferred plan lists 32 development projects at a total cost of $14,056,000. Of that cost, $11,516,000 would be earmarked for facilities just to meet existing demand.

The cost for projects to meet minimum requirements totals $8,991,500.

Both plans call for approximately $5.5 million to rehabilitate 22 miles of road and pull-outs and repaint stripes in some parking areas. Additionally, about $1.1 million would be needed to pave the road to Delicate Arch under the preferred plan.

The second largest big-ticket item under the preferred plan is a new $3.7 million visitor center with parking and support facilities. The existing building would be remodeled for offices with stone facing on the outside.

The preferred plan would enhance visitor experience and activities by providing a new visitor center and entrance facilities, paving the road to a new Delicate Arch viewpoint (with bridges across three washes), adding or improving wayside interpretive exhibits and activities and adding new trail heads and routes at several features.

Flood hazard at headquarters would be addressed by raising the road and installing culverts to channel waters away from developed areas, building a new structure outside the flood plain for museum collections, flood-proofing critical chemical and water treatment facilities to prevent contamination and developing an emergency flood warning and response system.

Both the minimum-requirements and preferred plans suggest reducing vehicle traffic hazards by installing signs and crosswalks and redesigning pull-outs and parking areas where necessary.

A new picnic area is planned at Balanced Rock, and expanded parking and trails at Sand Dune Arch. New primitive trails are planned at the Windows Section and LaSal Mountain Viewpoint. Handicap-accessible facilities would be developed at Windows, and viewpoint trails would be made handicap-accessible at Panorama Point and the LaSal Mountain Viewpoint.

Barriers would be built to keep vehicles off the road shoulders, also preventing people from creating new foot trails to features. The Salt Valley Overlook would be closed and restored.

Handicap-accessible facilities are also planned for the Wolfe Ranch area at the Delicate Arch trail head, and improvements to make paths handicap-accessible are planned at Park Avenue and at the Devils Garden Campground where 10 walk-in tent campsites would be added along with a dump station and new, permanent ranger residence.