ST. GEORGE – Washington County and neighboring counties have declared local states of emergency due to negative economic impact caused by the government shutdown of national parks and related lands.
The Washington County Commission issued the resolution Monday at the Washington County Administrative Building. County commissioners from Garfield, Iron, Kane, Sevier, Wayne, San Juan and Grand counties, and the Arizona counties of Coconino and Mohave also participated in person or over the phone.
The Washington County resolution states that approximately 3 million people visit Zion National Park annually, and that “a significant number of residents in Washington County rely on the tourism industry created by Zion visitors for income.”
In addition to Washington County, Iron, Kane and Garfield counties have also issued states of local emergency due to the financial impact of the shutdown. Other Utah counties are considering similar resolutions, Miller said.
While Zion National Park primarily resides in Washington County, it also reaches into Kane and Iron Counties. Bryce Canyon National Park rests in Garfield County; Canyonlands National Park is in Garfield, Wayne and Grand counties; Arches National Parks is in Grand County; and Capitol Reef National Park covers parts of Wayne, Garfield, Sevier and Emery counties.
There are many national monuments and recreation areas scattered across Utah as well. Among those noted in Southern Utah are Cedar Breaks in Iron County and Glen Canyon (Lake Powell) which stretches through parts of San Juan, Kane, Garfield and Wayne counties, these are also closed due to the shutdown.
“What’s really disgusting is it’s not just the parks (the government) has tried to shut down, its the whole public lands,” Gardner said. “You have national forest campgrounds, BLM campgrounds; anything that has a federal deal attached to it.”
The shutdown comes at the worst time for tourism-based industries, as the fall season provides significant gains that allow businesses like hotels and restaurants the ability to operate during the slower winter season. Without this income, many business will be forced to layoff employees or may even close their doors.
Springdale and Washington County
“This is the time of year that (Springdale’s) gift shops and galleries do really well,” Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said. “The (tourists) are spending more money now than in the summer.”
Springdale sees as many as 10,000 people a day, Springdale Town Councilman Mark Chambers said. Instead of seeing packed streets, “we’re seeing empty sidewalks and empty parking lots. We don’t know what the total financial impact will be till we get through this.”
Due to the park closure and the dramatic reduction in visitors, Chambers said hotel and restaurant employees are having their hours reduced this week.
“It’s unfortunate that the paralysis in Washington is affecting people in the service industry of our community,” Springdale Town Manager Rick Wixom said. “They’re the one’s being hurt.”
Chambers and Wixom also said that an international tourism trend of visiting Utah’s national parks may be broken by the bad impression left by the shutdown.
“Those tourists patterns are hard to rebuild,” Wixom said.
Despite the closure of the park, though, Springdale remains open to visitors.
“Come up to Springdale.” Chambers said. “We’re open for business.”
“Its been quite a troubling weekend,” Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller said in relation to the drop in tourism in the region.
“A lot of Iron County is a corridor to Zion and Bryce,” Miller said. “Our economic base is being impacted significantly. This is the most highly trafficked time of the year.”
Cedar Breaks National Monument is currently closed due to the government shutdown. Miller said the Iron County Sheriff’s Office is paying attention to the area because of potential road hazards caused by people who park the road and take photos of the area. Why are they on the road and not parking in areas off the road? Miller said it was due to scenic lookouts along the road being fenced off to public access during the closure.
The Iron County Sheriff’s Office, and county sheriffs in general, are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the people in their county, Miller said. Because of this, they are “intricately tied to any significant economic disruption” that affects the people of their respective counties.
In Iron County’s case, Miller said the sheriff’s office could also provide law enforcement, EMS and search and rescue operations in lieu of the National Park Service if necessary.
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Monday evening that the county, along with other aforemented Utah counties, has petitioned Gov. Herbert to declare a local state of emergency for the counties negatively impacted by the closure of the national parks, monuments and recreation areas.
“Tourism is responsible for 70 percent of the economy in Garfield County and 90 percent of the land is federally owned. With three national park boundaries within Garfield County, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands, as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area the economic impact has been devastating to our local businesses in an already struggling economy.”
Garfield County Commissioners said at the meeting in Washington County that the closure of Bryce Canyon is heavily impacting hoteliers and others who depend on the flow of tourists for their livelihood.
“It’s really serious here,” Garfield County Commissioner Claire Ramsey said. “Its affecting us big time.”
Ramsey said the biggest employer in the county is Ruby’s Inn, which has estimated it is now losing $100,000 a day due to the shutdown. “And that’s just one business,” he said.
Some businesses in Tropic have nearly shutdown due to the drop in visitors. Panguitch is also being hurt, Ramsey said.
No love lost for Washington D.C.
“Its an abuse of power,” Miller said. “We have a big bully in the White House trying to hurt us.”
Miller also called measures taken to keep the national parks and related venues closed “partisan” and “vindictive” on the part of the federal government and President Barack Obama in particular.
“I am disappointed in the Senate and the president,” Miller said. “They’d better grow up and be leaders.”
Last week the House passed legislation that would provide funding to parts of the federal government, including the National Park Service. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has stated the Senate will not vote on cherry-picked funding measures. Furthermore, the president has stated he would veto any such items if they cross his desk.
The battle between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate is over the Affordable Care Act which the Republicans in the House seek to defund and delay as a part of a continual funding resolution. However, the Democrats will not support such a measure. Any new spending resolution must be passed in whole and include funding for the ACA.
Until one side caves or compromises the shutdown continues.
“The pinnacle of our problem lays at the feet of our president,” Ramsey said. “We’re being held hostage.”
“(The federal government) is going to the full extent it can to make it as hard on everybody as possible,” Gardner said. “They have gone the ultimate length to make this as difficult for people as they can. It’s strictly a political thing Obama is doing.”
Gardner added the mess the government is creating “underscores the need to get these lands turned over to the state like was promised in the enabling act.”
The resolution passed by Washington County has been declared in accordance with Utah Code, which authorizes Washington County to provide “all appropriate aid and assistance in relation to the proclamation.”
Gardner said the resolution opens the door to getting potential aid or action from the state, along with whatever measures may need to be taken to try and negate the affects of the closures.
As of Monday evening, a spokesman for the officer said the county resolutions were “being reviewed.”
A copy of the Washington County resolution can be found here.
- Perspectives: To make our live as difficult as they can
- Shutdown: ‘Occupy Zion’ protesters defy national park gates
- Shutdown: Visitors ignore closure order, Grand Canyon National Park reacts with closure of Highway 64
- Shutdown impacts Springdale, Washington County tourism
- Bryce Canyon businesses say ‘it’s hurting bad;’ impact of government shutdown, alternatives for tourists – Includes alternatives for tourists
- Shutdown: Zion National park closes, what else is affected? – Includes alternatives for tourists
- Utah congressmen speak to government shutdown
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