Businesses feel the pinch of park, BLM closures
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Oct 10, 2013 | 3012 views | 0 0 comments | 103 103 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At the entrance to Arches National Park this week, a group of local residents protest the ongoing federal closure of parks and other federally managed recreation areas. The six individuals (pictured, back row, from left) Kelly McGettigan, Rick MacDonald, Lynette Merrill, R.D. Tucker, and (front row, from left) Jamie Pearce and Aimee Sezate, are all employed by businesses that have been significantly impacted by the federal government shutdown. “More so however, are our multiple friends and family who are federal employees all across the country – some of them with both husband and wife who are out of work,” Merrill said. “We wanted to show our support!” Courtesy photo
At the entrance to Arches National Park this week, a group of local residents protest the ongoing federal closure of parks and other federally managed recreation areas. The six individuals (pictured, back row, from left) Kelly McGettigan, Rick MacDonald, Lynette Merrill, R.D. Tucker, and (front row, from left) Jamie Pearce and Aimee Sezate, are all employed by businesses that have been significantly impacted by the federal government shutdown. “More so however, are our multiple friends and family who are federal employees all across the country – some of them with both husband and wife who are out of work,” Merrill said. “We wanted to show our support!” Courtesy photo
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When the popular White Rim Trail inside Canyonlands National Park closed last week, local outfitter Magpie Cycling Adventures mapped out another route that would take its clients on a journey they’d never forget.

The area it settled on is so spectacular that it turned up in the original proposal to create Canyonlands, according to Magpie Cycling co-owner Maggie Wilson.

“It’s awesome. It’s in the backcountry,” she said.

That land never made it into the final version of the bill that created the national park, and in a way, that’s good, Wilson said – if it had, it would be closed as a result of the federal government shutdown that took effect on Oct. 1.

But then again, when potential clients find out that the backup route won’t take them through Canyonlands National Park, Wilson said they’re less likely to book their reservations.

“It doesn’t have the big name,” she said.

While some people are now canceling their trips, Wilson is also spending more money to get her company’s clients to and from the alternate destination.

Fuel costs are up because guides are driving longer distances, and the company had to hire an additional staffer to help out.

By the time she’s added everything up, Wilson estimates that Magpie Cycling’s operating costs could jump by about 25 percent as a direct result of the federal shutdown.

Tex’s Riverways is also reeling from the shutdown, since the waterways inside Canyonlands National Park’s boundaries are currently off limits to guides and visitors alike.

Co-owner Darren Vaughn remembers the last round of federal government shutdowns in the mid-1990s, and he said the latest event is having a totally different impact on his small, family-owned company.

The previous shutdowns hit the national parks well after river runners closed their doors for the year. But October is peak season for Tex’s Riverways.

“It’s the worst possible time for us,” Vaughn said this week. “If you were going to script the worst case scenario for us, this would be it.”

The company is still able to guide its clients through Labyrinth Canyon, which is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Still, that trip is not generating the same kinds of revenue that the more popular national park routes do.

“But it’s keeping us busy,” he said.

If Canyonlands reopens on a particular day, Vaughn said he is ready and waiting to resume trips there by the next morning. However, he’s also operating under the assumption that the park will remain closed for the time being, and that he’ll have to plan for the backup route.

“It’s a nightmare from a scheduling point of view,” he said. “But we’re doing whatever we have to do to keep this business … We’re having to say yes to everything, because as soon as you say no, you’ve lost it.”

As it is, more and more of the company’s clients and potential customers are taking it upon themselves to plan their own vacations, he said.

Typically, this is the time of year when Vaughn would be fielding calls for additional bookings. This year, however, no one is calling.

Vaughn paused for a moment before he corrected himself: People are calling, he said – to cancel their reservations.

As his business drops off, Vaughn fears it’s going to affect year-end bonuses to the company’s three full-time employees, and that upsets him.

“We’re not hiring college kids,” he said. “We pay them year-round because we want it to be a viable [local employer].”

Grand County’s hospitality industry is hurting, too.

Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn General Manager Zach Bynum figures that shutdown-related cancellations during the first week of national park closures totaled $30,000 to $40,000.

The motel stayed fairly busy throughout last week, but that’s likely because it lowered its nightly rates and offered other discounts to guests, he said.

“We’re just trying to deal with it the best we can,” Bynum said.

Like other businesses in the area, Canyonlands Inn is encouraging tourists to check out other nearby sights and attractions.

“We have a whole list of activities that we came up with that are outside of the parks,” Bynum said. “But most of the people have their hearts set on Arches and Canyonlands, so they’re still canceling.”

Bowen Motel owner and manager Tyson Lesmeister said his business hasn’t been significantly affected by the park closures – yet.

“We’re probably down about 15 to 20 percent,” he said Oct. 8.

As a result, the motel has discounted room prices here and there. It’s also waiving some cancellation fees and welcoming drivers who show up on the spot without reservations.

The real challenges may come next month, if the shutdown and park closures continue into November, he said.

In the past, Lesmeister has noticed that business tends to taper off once cooler daytime temperatures arrive and the outdoor recreation season slows down.

By November, visitors often choose to explore Arches National Park from the warmth and comfort of their cars. This year, however, Lesmeister is concerned that Congress and the White House may not reach a deal in time to help the tourist industry rebound.

“I am not optimistic at all,” he said. “I think they try to talk a good game, but they’re going to do what’s best for themselves.”

Still, Lesmeister joined 26 other representatives from the local business community in reaching out to elected officials in Washington, D.C.

The Utah Outdoor Business Network is urging congressional representatives to pass a budget that allows national parks and other affected public lands to reopen as soon as possible.

Bynum has also written to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, outlining just how much revenue the Canyonlands Inn stands to lose as a result of the shutdown.

He received an automated response informing him Chaffetz’ office is closed due to the shutdown.

“It’s a little frustrating,” he said.

Vaughn, meanwhile, declined to speculate how long it might take Congress and the White House to end the showdown over the federal budget.

“I don’t have confidence enough in our system to venture a guess, so rather than hold out hope, I’m just going day by day,” he said.

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