Tourist towns feel financial impact from closed parks

Posted at 9:21 PM, Oct 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-08 23:21:05-04

SPRINGDALE – Despite a vigorous attempt by city and state officials to detour tourists, business owners in southern Utah say the extended government shutdown is starting to have an effect on their ledgers.

The effect has been so great Washington county commissioners declared, Monday, a financial emergency, urging Governor Gary Herbert to intervene on their behalf.

Fred Pagles owns Zion Cycles Bike Shop in Springdale. He said there’s a different feel around town.

“It feels like late December or January,” Pagles said. “It’s very quiet in town. Normally there’s a steady stream of traffic.”

Now there are only a handful of people walking the streets. Many of them are locals, doing what they can to support each other, but without the 10,000 daily tourists to Zion National Park, it feels like the season is already over.

“A very popular ride this time of year is that ride up into [Zion] park itself and into the canyon,” Pagles said. “With that being closed off, that segment of our business is gone.”

Pagles said about 50 percent of his business is directly related to the park, but for others, like the Historic Pioneer Lodge, the effect is more significant.

“On a daily basis, we get cancellations, 30-40 of them,” says general manager Ben Patel. “It has hit us hard. Especially with this being a tourist town -- everything is the National Park around here.”

Business owners say that October is actually a very busy month for them. It’s a time when tourists make plans to go to several national parks in the area.

Week one of the government shutdown consisted of a lot of people making due with the plans they already had, but now that we’re in week two, a lot of people have had time to reconsider and cancel those plans.

That loss of tourism is what caused county commissioners to declare the state of emergency. Springdale Mayor Pat Cluff said the emergency isn’t immediate, but will be felt long after the federal budget is resolved.

“The people who have been furloughed in the park, they’re going to get their pay,” Cluff said. “But our businesses, there is no way for them to make that up.”

Cluff said business owners are still keeping a positive attitude and doing what they can to encourage tourists to follow through with travel plans, but says if tourists have made up their mind, there’s little they can do to change it.