By Pat Cluff
As we move into the third week of the U.S. government shutdown, communities adjacent to our national parks are increasingly feeling its real world impacts.
Here in Springdale our business owners and residents are at the heart of this economic disturbance. October is traditionally one of the busiest months for parks and gateway communities in southern Utah, providing necessary revenue to maintain year-round operations.
Zion National Park, listed on the National Park Service website as being the fifth most visited national park, estimates 10,000 people visit every day in October.
Springdale, where nearly every one of our businesses depends in some measure on visitation to Zion, has seen dramatic reductions in tourist visits during the last few weeks.
Our hotels are experiencing a 50-60 percent drop from normal visitation levels, with more and more cancellations occurring daily as the shutdown goes on. Restaurants, retail outlets and other visitor services are experiencing a decline in customers of 30-50 percent from normal levels.
Comments from foreign visitors also demonstrate a diminished perception of our government from around the world. One of our local businesses recently heard from a foreign traveler, "You guys are a joke back home."
With approximately 30-35 percent of visitors to Zion coming from beyond our borders, there is concern what effect the current situation might have on future bookings from overseas travelers.
Overall it has been heartening to experience to see the abundance of love that has been displayed both nationwide and around the world for our national parks and their surrounding cities and towns.
On the other hand, those of us in the gateway communities that are directly impacted by closures and funding cuts to our national parks hope that this collective concern carries forward beyond the current shutdown.
Over the last three years Congress has cut the budget to operate national parks nationwide by 13 percent in today’s dollars. This trend cannot continue if our communities and the parks are going to thrive.
We would, however, also like to make clear that Springdale is not, by any means, closed! Despite the current hardship associated with this shutdown, we are open for business.
The recreational opportunities beyond Zion’s borders are up and running, as are the majority of our businesses.
Visitors who have stayed in Springdale during the shutdown have been directed to the many other choices for recreation, and several hotels have reported that some guests are actually staying longer than they originally planned because of this vast variety of recreation opportunities outside of the national park. We invite all travelers from near and far to come visit us and explore all the options that we have to offer.
Next month representatives from Springdale, Moab and approximately 20 other Utah gateway communities are going to gather for a day-long forum to begin a process for the development of common sense solutions and shared strategies.
We are excited about what this collaborative knowledge can provide in helping to strengthen the health of our cities and towns.
We hope that a similar measure of common sense and cooperation soon returns to the halls of Congress.
Pat Cluff is mayor of Springdale.
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