Cheryl Gordon and Linda Newman visited Arches National Park on Thursday, Oct. 3. They drove around the barricades at the park’s entrance and proceeded to enjoy a leisurely drive. The two checked out a few trails before being stopped by a park ranger near Skyline Arch.
He asked if they saw the signs stating that the park was closed. He asked if they went around the barricades. And then he gave them a $75 ticket.
”It is our park, we’re cancer survivors and we wanted to see it,” Gordon said.
The two women from Nevada City, Calif., planned the trip a year ago with the intent to see several national parks on a 15-day trip. Arches was the first on their list. Stating that the national park was public land, and that they are a members of the public, they said it was their right to enter.
“It was an act of civil disobedience,” Gordon said.
The two said they are law-abiding citizens.
“We don’t even jaywalk,” Newman said.
Some 800,000 federal workers were told Monday, Sept. 30 not to report to work until Congress reaches a budget deal. The partial shutdown of the federal government has shuttered Utah’s five national parks, including nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
In October 2012, there were 96,310 visitors to Arches National Park alone.
Sharon Kienzle, the operations manager at the Moab Information Center, said that the number of people coming into the center has more than doubled since the parks closures. She said that the normal number of visitors at the center this time of year is 700. On Monday there were more 1500.
“We were swamped, but we had a good time,” she said.
Canyonlands Natural History Association, which manages the downtown information center, as well as visitor centers at Arches and Canyonlands national parks, pulled staff from the parks to work at the center. The Moab Information Center usually has two or three employees per shift, but since the increased demand, now there are up to seven.
She said that tourists are coming into the center fearing that their trip is ruined by not being able to visit the national parks.
Kienzle and her staff have been telling visitors about Dead Horse Point State Park, hikes to Corona Arch and Negro Bill Canyon, Fisher Towers and the drive on the La Sal Loop Road to enjoy the turning of the leaves.
“They come in sad, and leave with smiles,” Kienzle said. “A lot of them don’t realize what there is to do.”
CNHA’s most profitable bookstore is at the Arches National Park visitor center. And while sales of books and maps have increased at the Moab Information Center since the parks’ closures, Kienzle said “it’s not even a drop in the bucket of what we’d make at Arches alone.”
The national parks closures have brought floods of visitors to state parks, officials said. Utah’s 43 state parks often are overshadowed by their national counterparts.
Tim Smith, the southeast regional manager of Utah State Parks, was directing traffic at Dead Horse Point State Park on Thursday, Oct. 3.
“Tuesday was a record day,” Smith said . The attendance at Dead Horse Point smashed any other record the park had previously set. “It was packed.”
Park staff counted 588 cars on Tuesday, well above the park’s previous record of 350 cars from Memorial Day.
He said attendance increased at other regional parks as well, like Edge of Cedars State Park in Blanding, Anasazi State Park in Boulder, and Goblin Valley State Park near Hanksville.
“This is a boon for state parks. We pay our own way,” Smith said.
Utah State Parks director Fred Hayes said the record numbers of visitors will not last, but he hoped it helped raise the profile of state parks and will lead to more visitors in the long run.
“Folks will go back and talk about their vacation with friends, and people will expect them to say ‘our trip was ruined’,” he said. “We hope they respond and say ‘we saw some really cool stuff and you should include it on your Utah itinerary when you go’. We know their trip this week was memorable, but we hope state parks made it a positive memory.”
Dead Horse Point State Park normally is busy this time of year, and park officials were expecting a bump because of a shutdown. But the increase in visitors was “pretty overwhelming,” said park manager Megan Blackwelder.
Blackwelder said Dead Horse Point State Park, which is adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, saw a record number of cars and tourist buses in its parking lot this week.
“We are putting cars wherever we can, and our gift shop manager has been more busy than ever,” Blackwelder said. “We haven’t turned anybody away.”
At his monthly televised news conference Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert said the national park closures have jeopardized about 10 percent of the state’s expected tourism revenues for October.
“The good news is, our state parks are available, and some of those are just as spectacular and just as convenient as some of our national parks,” Herbert said.
The governor said state tourism officials have launched a mini-campaign to redirect would-be national park visitors to state sites.
For some commercial tour companies that were counting on national parks, the state parks have been a last-minute replacement for their buses of tourists.
Tour bus driver Chris McCay said that Grace Coach Lines scheduled Dead Horse Point State Park for a group of French visitors on Thursday. It was one state park on 10-day tour that included Colorado National Monument, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument and Rocky Mountain National Park.
“They’re shutting the one part of government that produces revenue,” McCay said.
He said the tourists were disappointed to miss Arches National Park, but they did a jet boat tour on the Colorado River as a last minute substitute.
“I hope they open up the parks before we get to Yellowstone,” McCay said.
Tatiana Uvarovite, who endured a 15-hour flight from Vladivostok, Russia to arrive in the United States wasn’t pleased to discover that the national parks would be closed. They chose to visit Dead Horse Point State Park as an alternative.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “How do you shut down the government?”
The parking lot at the Corona Arch trailhead west of Moab was packed on Thursday afternoon. The arch now sits on state-owned land, but is designated to be part of a land trade with the federally managed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) later this year.
Sherry and Ross Eason from Hubert, North Carolina, didn’t plan to hike to Corona Arch when they wrote out their trip itinerary. They planned to spend three days in the Moab-area during a three week trip in Utah. They were able to visit Zion and Bryce national parks before the closure.
“We’re glad we got to see an arch,” Sherry Eason said.
The two said they wouldn’t have had time to visit Corona Arch had the national parks been opened.
“We weren’t able to see Rainbow Bridge National Monument,” Ross Eason said.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls much of Utah’s public land, furloughed non-essential staffers and closed 4000 recreational facilities in the state, including campgrounds, boat ramps, visitor centers and recreation sites.
Dani Elias from Thousand Oaks, Calif., was packing up her tent at BLM’s Drink’s Canyon campground along the Colorado River on Thursday afternoon. She said there was a sign posted saying that no services would be provided.
“The sign says no services,” Elias said. “It doesn’t say not to camp.”
By Saturday morning the campgrounds were emptied and cables were placed across the entryways to prevent campers from entering the BLM campsites along the Colorado River off State Route 128.
Andrea Brand, the director of Sand Flats Recreation Area, said that the campgrounds have been a bit busier this week since the closure.
Sand Flats Recreation Area is BLM-land, but the site is managed by Grand County and will remain open.
“We thought we’d be swamped, but we’re not much busier,” she said.
Brand said, however, that the phone has been ringing off the hook.
“Callers would say there was nowhere to go. ‘You’re the first person to pick up,’” Brand said.
Brand said that most of campers at Sand Flats are mountain bikers.
“Our visitors usually don’t go into the parks,” she said.
The Utah Outdoor Business Network sent a letter to U.S. Legislators urging them to pass a federal budget to reopen access to Utah’s national parks and federally managed lands.
“These public land closures put at risk Utah’s outdoor industry, which annually contributes $3.6 billion in wages and salaries and over $856 million in state and local tax revenue,” the letter stated.
The letter stated that October is one of the year’s biggest months for national park gateway communities.
“Revenues generated at this time of year are critical for maintaining year-round operations. This will have lasting negative effects for business investment well into 2014,” the letter stated.
It also referenced the Utah Travel Council “Big Five” campaign.
“Despite an aggressive nationwide PR campaign that highlight Utah’s ‘five iconic national parks within easy distance of one another equals an epic bucket list vacation,’ local hotels and restaurants will be empty, shop and guide services will be dormant, and millions of dollars that communities need will be lost,” the letter stated.
Sabrina Randall, who works for Canyonlands Jeep, said that the company lost multiple-day jeep rentals because visitors wouldn’t be able to camp along the White Rim trail in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.
“We’re still a small mom and pop business,” Randall said. “I see how this will affect small town America.”
She said that people are calling and wondering if they should cancel their trip to Moab, asking “is all of Moab shut down?”
She cited plenty of trails that one can do: Hurrah Pass, Gemini Bridges, Long Canyon, as well as several trails in the Sand Flats Recreation Area.
Sandy Bastian, general manager of Red Cliffs Lodge, said that there has been an impact on their business with national park tour bus cancellations.
“It is difficult to recoup that kind of revenue overnight,” Bastian said. “We’ve been sold out for months and now we have rooms available. When you have a motorcoach cancel, that’s 25 to 30 rooms. That is lost revenue.”
She said that October is normally a busy time for the lodge, restaurant and winery on State Route 128.
“Timing wise it has been rough,” Bastian said. “I would have preferred this to happen in November.”