ST. GEORGE — Whether you see it as a boon to the local economy or an imposition when you just want to enjoy your favorite hike, there is no denying that summer tourism is on the rise in Southern Utah. And it doesn’t show any sign of slowing.
Using various determiners, both the St. George Area Tourism Office and Cedar City–Brian Head Tourism Bureau reported increases over 2016. However, Zion National Park is where the most significant jumps are being seen.
More than last year? How is that possible?
According to numbers provided by Zion National Park spokesman John Marciano, Zion has seen only two years since 2007 when overall visitation dropped – an approximate 2.5-percent drop from 2009 to 2010 and 5.5-percent drop from 2012 to 2013.
Otherwise, numbers have been steadily climbing. Last year, which coincided with the National Park Service centennial, Zion visitation jumped by almost 700,000 visitors more than 2015 – an almost 18 percent increase. And 2017 visitor numbers to-date have already surpassed where they were this time last year, putting the park on track to beat last year.
For a complete breakdown of park visitation from 2007-2017 by month, click here.
This increase has led to both consternation and uncertainty as to how to proceed with such a volume of people. Possible options have ranged from an overflow parking structure in Springdale to an online reservation system simply to enter the park.
Meanwhile, visitors continue to pour in, and ahead of the Utah Education Association weekend, the park has issued a press release advising of anticipated high traffic.
• See below for additional details, including road construction, shuttle schedule and park hours •
Meanwhile, outside of the park…
Increases that are generally seen as a positive boon to local economies as opposed to an overwhelming burden were also recorded in both St. George and Cedar City this summer.
In St. George, the year-to-date hotel occupancy rate through August was 78.3 percent, which is up from 77.1 percent in 2016.
Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Area Tourism Office, called 78 percent “a really good number.”
In August of this year, Sherwin said, the occupancy rate was almost 79 percent, up from 74 percent in August 2016.
Despite the high numbers in Zion, in a previous article for St. George News, Sherwin said the tourism office has not focused its efforts solely on the park for several years.
“Our goal is to get people in town for three to four days and have them go into the park once,” she said. It was a point she reinforced when asked about the 2017 numbers.
“Our occupancy rate is not just all about Zion,” she said. “This year in July we had the national horseshoe tournament and … the Seventh-day Adventists. And they were here for a week, so between that and the horseshoes in July, that was a big bump.”
“Tourism is strong,” Sherwin said, “and I don’t expect that to change.”
Maria Twitchell, executive director for the Cedar City – Brian Head Tourism Bureau, also said they believe people are still traveling. While Sherwin spoke on occupancy rates, Twitchell said her office bases numbers on what it calls “tourism taxes,” such as the transient room tax and restaurant tax.
“Right now, the transient room taxes – which is the hotel tax – are up about 4 percent over last year,” she said.
In regard to occupancy rates, Twitchell said, there was a slight decrease over the summer, attributable to the Brian Head Fire, which started on June 17 and wasn’t fully contained for over a month.
“We think there was some kind of reluctance (to visit) because of the Brian Head Fire,” Twitchell said. “People were concerned about the air quality or that the whole place was gone. … I think there was some hesitancy there.”
However, Twitchell said they fully anticipate those numbers will go back up with the upcoming opening and dedication of the new Cedar City Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is expected to draw crowds of nearly 150,000 over the course of the three-week open house.
“Hotels are already starting to fill up,” Twitchell said.
Zion officials advise of busy UEA weekend
Individuals planning to visit Zion National Park over Utah Education Association weekend – Friday through Monday – should be prepared for delays, limited parking and crowded conditions. The park is anticipating conditions similar to holiday weekends.
“Utah Education Association weekend reminds us how our public lands can serve as outdoor classrooms for countless generations to come,” Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion superintendent, said in a media statement. “Please plan ahead, take responsibility for your safety, be patient and treat others with courtesy and respect while visiting the park.”
Officials reminded visitors that on busy weekends, parking lots inside the park can fill by 9:30 a.m., and wait times for entrance and shuttle bus boarding can be long. Additionally, road construction entering the town of Springdale on state Route 9 has begun, and wait times in work zones can delay traffic for up to 25 minutes.
It is recommended that visitors coming to the park over UEA weekend arrive early in the day, park only in designated lots or paved pullouts and avoid parking on road shoulders. Once parking is full, visitors can park in Springdale and ride the free shuttle buses to the park.
Shuttle service in Springdale has been modified due to the SR-9 road project. Stops 7, 8, and 9 in Springdale will be closed. For the most updated information, visit the Zion National Park website.
The Visitor Center, Wilderness Desk and the Zion Forever Project Bookstore will open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The Zion Human History Museum will open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The first shuttle bus going up canyon from the Visitor Center, will depart at 7 a.m. The last bus coming out of the canyon will depart the Temple of Sinawava, at 7:15 p.m.
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