Moab Diner general manager James Butterfield clears plates for customers Jon Screem, Austin Avery and Stephanie Griffith on Friday, Feb. 28. Butterfield said he expects a record-breaking season in 2014. (Photo by Tim Chappell/Moab Sun News)

The snow has melted, temperatures are rising, and spring is in the air. With some of Moab’s biggest events just around the corner, local businesses are preparing for what is expected to be a strong tourist season.

Moab’s visitor season runs mid-March to mid-November, beginning in earnest with the Canyonlands Half Marathon on Saturday, March 15. Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy Moab’s two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, one state park, Dead Horse Point, as well as river rafting, mountain biking, four-wheeling, hiking, and various events, including Easter Jeep Safari, April Action Car Show, and Gran Fondo.

The Utah Department of Transportation’s vehicle counters along U.S. Highway 191 estimated around 2.5 million vehicles in Moab last year.

“That number includes all the traffic coming into Moab whether it was an overnight visitor, day-only visitor, or a pass through,” Moab Area Travel Council director Marian DeLay said. “It also includes all local traffic and truck traffic.”

Visitation to Moab-area parks was up last year. Arches National Park had 1,082,866 visitors, up 1.15 percent from 2012, while Canyonlands had 462,243 visitors, up 2.05 percent from the previous year. Dead Horse Point State Park had 208,902 visitors, an increase of 4.07 percent. While these numbers were up slightly because of the government shutdown last fall, the Travel Council expects numbers to increase for 2014. “We absolutely expect more (people,)” DeLay said. “Moab has a very aggressive marketing campaign that touts the national parks, state park, the river, the addition of bike trails and paths, the growth in businesses downtown, the clear blue skies, breathtaking scenery, and so much more. When people come to Moab, they generally have a great experience and leave to tell everyone about it. That word of mouth coupled with our advertising stirs an interest in many people looking for a great place to get away to and, that will drive people to Moab.”

Sharon Kienzle, Moab Information Center operations manager, said visitation is already up for the month of February.

“We are up 46 percent in visitation for February,” she said. “And from everything we are hearing from around town, it is going to be a big year.”

Jeep rentals also have a strong outlook for 2014, having seen a promising preseason. Canyonlands Jeep Adventures owner Steve Lawry said his business is “seeing a strong lead-up to Jeep Safari.”

“Typically the season for us doesn’t really start until Jeep Safari, but with Jeep Safari being late this year, we’ll be busy before it,” he said.

Moab Diner general manager James Butterfield said he expects this season to be “huge.”

“Especially with Jeep Safari and Car Show back-to-back this year, we should be able to break records in April,” he said.

Butterfield said the Moab Diner expects to make $10,000 from its Blue Ribbon fundraiser this year. The Blue Ribbon is an organization that fights to keep trails open. The Moab Diner sells specially designed shirts, with $8 per shirt going to the organization.

Sabaku Sushi manager Rikki Epperson said she is optimistic about the tourist season.

“We are a young company – just three years – and we are still building clientele,” Epperson said. “Sales for us have always been higher than the year before.”

Epperson said she still encounters many tourists that mention they just found out about us or else “they would have tried us sooner.”

Local businesses are already preparing for the upcoming season through staffing, marketing, evaluating products or services, and perfecting operational procedures. Moab Brewery general manager Mike Miller has been spending the past few weeks hiring and training new staff in anticipation for the start of the season.

“Staffing is everyone’s biggest concern right now,” Miller said. “Getting them here and getting them trained.”

Miller said staffing in Moab can be a difficult task.

“For people that live in Moab, work is secondary; they are here to play first and work second,” Miller said. “I think it is a great lifestyle, but it is getting harder to find people that can have a good balance.”

Butterfield said for the Moab Diner, the challenge is keeping calm under stress.

“The biggest challenge is having people not buckle under the pressure of working that hard for that long,” he said.

While no one can truly know how big the season will be until it actually happens, Moab will definitely be a draw for travelers this summer.

“Moab is just so diverse,” Kienzle said. “You can do anything here.”

Local businesses say they are optimistic about 2014

“Especially with Jeep Safari and Car Show back-to-back this year, We should be able to break records in April.”