GARFIELD COUNTY, Utah — Milder weather would typically signify a jump in outdoor activity near Bryce Canyon National Park, but those in Garfield County aren't seeing an increase in business.
Travel restrictions from COVID-19 have completely stopped international travel, which would typically be big business for Utah's 'big five' National Parks. But the coronavirus pandemic has also kept domestic travelers at home. The dramatic drop in business is showing that people are taking the COVID-19 quarantine suggestions seriously, but it also throws a major curve-ball to local, small-town business owners.
"Tropic and the Garfield County are heavily depended upon tourism," said Tyson Brinkerhoff, who co-owns numerous businesses including the Bryce Canyon Inn in Tropic and has had to layoff a number of employees. "We're a very seasonal area so we save up all summer long; we have to make the bills through the off-months and we pat ourselves on the back for making it through the long cold winter."
Bryce Canyon City and Tropic were both virtually empty on Tuesday afternoon.
"All of our reservations for the next month and a half have canceled, now we're experiencing cancellations up into May, even June and July," said Brinkerhoff regarding several hundred canceled reservations.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins spoke with numerous business owners and estimates that roughly 35,000 hotel reservations were canceled. He also noted that driving into Bryce Canyon National Park on Tuesday morning, only a few hundred cars had come through the day before. It's believed that thousands would enter the park in late March of 2019. According to the National Parks Service, over 2.6 million visitors came to Bryce Canyon National Park in 2018.
"We would like people to come to visit Bryce Canyon National Park and stay and visit the businesses and financially support them, but at the same time we understand that that means," said Brinkerhoff. "They're coming in from other places that may have already been exposed to the COVID-19 virus."
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins agrees that it's a 'double-edged sword' citing the need for business and visitors but to also protect one-another from potential spread of the COVID-19.
"It's effected us substantially and all these rural communities, all these rural counties and I suspect even in the city areas also there's a big impact," said Sheriff Perkins. "This is something that I haven't lived through; I've never seen anything this extreme."
With roughly 5,000 residents in Garfield County, Commissioner Leland Pollock is hoping that people will still continue to visit the county and use it as a way to practice social distancing.
"This is not normal times," said Pollock, citing the strain and unknown factor that out-of-town visitors pose for local emergency personnel. "Those that want to come down here and keep themselves safe and do their social distancing and travel, there's no reason why they wouldn't want to come here, I mean we're not closed to that type of travel."
Pollock says that 93% of Garfield County is public land. He believes there is still plenty of open land where visitors can come practice social distancing, while doing it responsibly during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The bottom line is though, domestic travelers and those that come here can take their own safety precautions and do social distancing and still be able to see a lot of open country and not put any one at risk," said Pollock. "You can get with your family, make preparations, you might have to pack a lunch, you might have to do things the old fashioned way."