Arches and Canyonlands national parks reopened last weekend to great fanfare, and tourists from around the state, country and globe are returning to the area.
Everything’s great, right? Well, not quite, according to Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Marian DeLay.
“Having the parks open again is absolutely wonderful,” DeLay said Oct. 16. “I cannot praise the state enough (for working to reopen the parks), but I don’t think we’re back to normal.”
One motel owner reported that bookings are still down by about 1 percent, and many campgrounds remain deserted, she said.
“This is like the last weekend of that big campground push,” she added.
During a normal mid-October week, DeLay would expect to see hundreds of people camped out at designated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites. Yet even as the parks reopened with the state’s financial help, the BLM areas are closed due to the federal government shutdown that took effect on Oct. 1.
Fortunately, events like the Other Half Marathon are bringing people to town, and many state residents are taking advantage of the Utah Education Association’s fall break to visit the area, she said. Tourist bus companies are also happy, since they’re once again booking reservations instead of canceling them.
“We’re in a much better position than we were a week ago,” DeLay said.
Gov. Gary Herbert has said he recognizes just how important Utah’s national parks are to communities like Moab, and he worked out a $1.67 million deal to keep them operating through Oct. 20.
The parks won't need all of that money now, though.
On Oct. 16, both houses of Congress passed legislation that ended the shutdown, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law just after midnight on Oct. 17.
Despite that last-minute development, the recent park closures are still likely to have lasting and negative effects on many local businesses’ bottom lines for the year.
The closures, which lasted for more than 10 days, could not have come at a worse time for Moab’s tourist industry.
October is one of the busiest months of the year for area outfitters, Main Street shops and restaurants and others who depend on tourist traffic to or from Arches and Canyonlands.
Businesses still have a chance to make up for the loss, but as cooler temperatures set in, visitation numbers typically begin to drop.