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Bryce Canyon reopening signals hope for local businesses

Posted at 8:28 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 23:59:18-04

GARFIELD COUNTY, Utah — After nearly a month, Bryce Canyon National Park reopened its gates to visitors on Wednesday.

“Garfield County relies on tourism as a primary economic driver and so the park is a big part of that and we understand how the parks open or closed status will have a direct impact on that," said Bryce Canyon National Park's Peter Densmore, a visual information specialist. Densmore says roughly two million cars visited the park in 2019 and speculates that roughly 2,000 cars were in the park last April and May.

“It’s a big deal to get that park open,” said Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock. “We want to make sure that we do this safely, it’s very important that we get this right and we do it safely.”

Pollock says they've been working on a plan to safely reopen the park for a few weeks. Meanwhile, businesses in Garfield County, which heavily rely on the park's tourism traffic are struggling to stay afloat.

“It’s been pretty catastrophic I keep saying it’s biblically bad," said Ruby's Inn Hotel General Manager Lance Syrett. "Our revenues, our visitors are down about 98%, you know as a business person you can’t even relate to 98%.” Since the announced reopening, Syrett says that some reservations have been made and the RV and Campground had drawn extra interest. Other areas surrounding the park, either in nearby Tropic or Panguitch are badly needing the additional foot traffic.

“The next year’s going to be hard, people need to understand that our community Garfield County, in general, we were just coming out of our slow season, winter’s our slow season, people put just barely enough money to survive the winter,” said Ralph Perkins, who is a partner at Cowboy Smokehouse in Panguitch. “We as Americans, we as Utahns, we as Garfield County, Panguitch citizens, we need to stay close, close to the people that support us and take care of our own.”

The last month has been hard for businesses in Garfield County. However, Perkins fears that the hardest part is just beginning.

“Reopening Bryce Canyon gives us hope," said Perkins. “I’m not afraid to invite people into my restaurant, I’m not afraid to invite people into our community you know I just think we need to be smart.”

As far as Bryce Canyon and it's reopening, Peter Densmore says the park is in the earliest phase of its process which emphasizes the Bryce Amphitheater area. Most bathrooms and park buildings are not yet open to the public.

Until further notice, the Department of Interior has waived park entrance fees. Densmore stresses all visitors check Bryce Canyon's website prior to visitation to learn which areas are open.

Both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef are open in the state of Utah. Zion National Park plans to reopen on May 13. The future status of Arches and Canyonlands are unknown.