In Australia, a popular hike for tourists may soon close.
Ayers Rock is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reddish-brown sandstone monolith rises 1,142 feet from the dry floor of the country’s outback, about 108 miles from the nearest town of Alice Springs. The local Anangu, an aboriginal tribe, call Ayers Rock “Uluru,” and do not climb it because of its spiritual significance in their culture.
But that hasn’t stopped tourists from padding their way to the stop.
For years, Uluru has been a popular destination for travelers (40,000 people have already visited in 2012). The hour-long, half-mile hike provides the best views in the area. However, Parks Australia says it may close the path if the number of visitors who climb Uluru falls below 20 percent.
While in 2010, 38 percent of visitors made their way to the top, a survey in June suggested that this number has almost halved to 20 percent–just one in five of the 331 visitors surveyed. Compare this to the number in 1990, when three-quarters of visitors hiked.
If the path does close, Uluru’s traditional owners will shed no tears. For years they have asked visitors not to climb for cultural, environmental and safety reasons. Since 1958, 36 people have died attempting to the climb the sandstone monolith.
Parks Australia will consult with tourism industry operators before a final decision, and counters have been installed to determine the exact numbers of hikers.