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Gov mulls opening Utah’s national parks, as local businesses wait on standby

President Trump is calling for national parks to re-open, something Governor Gary Herbert supports if done safely and carefully. Meanwhile, local businesses and shops around the parks are eagerly awaiting the return of visitors. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — President Trump is calling for national parks to reopen, including Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks.

The five parks are closed mostly due to pleas from regional health departments and local communities that are concerned about the lack of social distancing.

Governor pressed about Utah’s national parks

Now, Governor Gary Herbert is being pressed about what he’ll do. This comes just a week after he ordered the reopening of state parks to all visitors.

In a statement issued yesterday, the governor seems to indicate that he’s open to the idea, if it’s done carefully.

Herbert’s statement reads, in part, “I support a safe and structured reopening of Utah’s five national parks.”

Later on, he hints at what his idea of safe and structured might be, saying, “Do not congregate at trailheads and other popular common areas. Stay home if you’re sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus. Keep parks and recreation areas clean by packing out what you pack in.”

With all signs pointing towards reopening in the near future, it puts local tourism in an interesting spot. Most businesses and shops desperately need the influx of visitors, but at what cost?

Time to bring back Bryce Canyon?

Garfield County is just one example of a tourist dominated area that continues to suffer as long as social restrictions are in place.

“Bryce Canyon is definitely [the] major attraction in our county,” explains Garfield County Tourism Office Executive Director Falyn Owens. “We live and die on it pretty much.”

In this case, “we” means hotels, shops, gas stations, restaurants and plenty more.

“It’s really a trickle effect,” she explains. “In our area, so many things actually touch tourism without people realizing there is a tourism component to their jobs.”

If Bryce Canyon were to reopen tomorrow, she says you’d get a different reaction depending on who you talk to.

“This is all over the board,” says Owens. “Some residents just want to shut everything down. You talk to business owners, they’re laying people off and laying off people with families.”

Even if national parks end their temporary visitor hiatus, there’s no guarantee what sort of response they’ll see. Owens thinks visitation numbers will be down no matter what, which actually could serve as a win-win. Limited numbers could help keep local businesses afloat, while not over crowding the parks and putting visitors in dangerous situation.

“The nearby states, they aren’t travelling like they normally would,” she says. “I don’t feel like there is going to be a mass pile of people banging down the gate all at once.”