Amid the federal government shutdown, guests staying in Moab to see Arches National Park began checking out early and leaving since there was no funding in place to plow the snow-covered roads as of Jan. 8.
Local hotel workers said the closure of the parks’ entrances has had a significant impact on business.
“We have seen cancellations due to the closure of the national parks,” said Alex Appleby, general manager at Homewood Suites by Hilton on North Main Street.
Not all visitors to Moab come for the national parks, and one guest sitting in the lobby at the hotel said she was “glad to see what President Trump is doing” with the federal shutdown; she declined to give her name, saying that she “probably shouldn’t comment.”
But throughout town, other people were feeling differently, including a federal employee anticipating her family buying less food and scaling back on birthday party plans for their two sons in light of not receiving pay.
Moab resident Rebecca Weissinger is an ecologist for the National Park Service. She received her last paycheck at the end of December.
“My family will be okay for a while,” she said on Jan. 8.
Without work, her husband has picked up extra shifts at his job and she has turned her attention to completing projects that she hasn’t otherwise had time for, like making photo albums of her children and volunteering, but Weissinger said she’d “rather be working.”
Ninety-year-old Moab resident Kenneth Robbins said he thinks the federal government shutdown could have been averted and called it a “pitiful” thing to go through.
“People being in the government, they probably live from paycheck to paycheck and if you’ve ever had to do that, me being 90 years old, I think it stinks they did that,” Robbins said.
Until the National Park Service delivers a plan to fund and reopen its operations to be able to plow the roads and maintain access, the gate remains locked.
Two visitors who had just left the entrance at Arches National Park after finding the entrance gate locked made their way to the Moab Information Center at the corner of Main and Center.
Cecilie Pederson and Peter Larsen traveled to Moab to see Arches National Park.
Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, they had been skiing in Park City before heading to Moab to visit Arches National Park.
“Luckily my dad wrote me when it happened and said be aware the parks may be closed,” Pederson said. Her father lives in Denmark and had heard of the park’s closure through the national news. “We went to the entrance to see for ourselves.”
The two were considering renting bicycles to access the park.
“I’m pretty disappointed and desperate,” Larsen said, who said his main goal is to see Delicate Arch for the first time.
Their next stop: the Grand Canyon, which has remained open.
“A lot of the guests come for the national parks,” Appleby said. “It’s definitely going to have an impact and it’s going to show itself in everything from lodging to food operations to every kind of local business here in town.”
Elaine Gizler, director of the Moab Area Travel Council, said that in January 2018 there were 32,000 people who came into Arches.
It’s the slowest month of the year for the area. Visitation begins to increase in February, she said, and more than triples in March to about 135,000 visitors. Gizler said it’s too early to tell how the park closures may impact the local economy, which derives revenue from transient room taxes (TRT) imposed on overnight rentals.
“Taxwise, we could be impacted with the lack of TRT taxes and sales taxes and all of the other taxes that come in,” Gizler said. In January 2018, those 32,000 visitors brought in about $93,000 in tax revenue from overnight rentals and hotel lodging, she said.
To try to get people to stay, local business employees and staff at the information center began directing guests to other area attractions, such as Dead Horse Point State Park.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in visitors,” said Tom Arthur, a seasonal park ranger at Dead Horse Point State Park, on Jan. 7. “A lot of people say they were coming to Moab to see Arches and Canyonlands and are coming up here to Dead Horse Point because the parks are closed.”
That looks like 10 to 15 cars in the parking lot at the visitor’s center at Dead Horse Point State Park, as opposed to the two or three typically seen there during this time of the year, he said.
Kelsi Garcia, a front desk employee at the Aarchway Inn, has also recommended that guests visit the state park.
“We’ve had a lot of guests check out early due to the closures at Arches and Canyonlands,” Garcia said. “They’re upset about the parks being closed because that is the main attraction.”
Multiple calls to the National Park Service were not answered on Jan. 7, but on Jan. 8, the Moab Sun News briefly spoke with Scott Brown, lead ranger at Arches National Park. Brown confirmed a report that a man had gone to the entrance of Arches National Park sometime around Jan. 1, cut the lock on the gate and attempted to drive up the snow-covered switchbacks, at which point he became stuck.
Brown said that he was unable to give more details or information on any reports from the incident due to the nature of the government shutdown, adding that responding to press inquiries at the time was a strain.
At Canyonlands National Park, the phone rang until a recorded statement started, saying, “Thank you for calling Canyonlands National Park. Because of the lapse in federal appropriations, this National Park Service office is closed. However, you still are more than welcome to enter the park and recreate.”
Guests checking out early; international visitors disappointed to find gate locked at Arches National Park
“It’s definitely going to have an impact and it’s going to show itself in everything from lodging to food operations to every kind of local business here in town.”