Southern Utah national parks provide boost to local economies

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ZION NATIONAL PARK -- New numbers from the National Park Service show just how valuable those parks are to the local economy, boasting revenue numbers in the millions.

A report published Monday by the National Park Service showed tourists spent an estimated $193 million in southern Utah towns surrounding Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Pipe Springs National Monument in 2012.

Attendance at the three parks totaled more than 3.6 million visitors, which is something local businesses hope will repeat this year.

“I expect the season to go really well,” said Todd Harris, owner of the Springdale based Zion Prospector shop. “It seems like it just keeps getting better all the time.”

Of course the major draw in Springdale is Zion National Park. The report shows an estimated three million people visited that park alone in 2012 and provided close to $150 million to the local economy.

“It’s one of the main attractions,” said Paul Jewkes, St. George Tourism Bureau Internet marketing director. “When over three million visitors a year come, and with that brings dollars to local shops, hotels, everything that you can think of, shopping.”

A companion report by the Nation Park Service looks at the hit communities took in October 2013 when the government shutdown closed the national parks.

Zion saw a loss of close to 60,000 visitors during the 10-day closure before the state stepped in and reopened the park -- that equates to about $1.3 million in spending according to the report.

“We still did OK,” Harris said. “If it had gone on longer, I think 10 days is about max, and then everybody really starts to feel it.”

Tourism directors say it shows Utah did the right thing stepping in to reopen their parks.

Now, to try and to spread those dollars around, the St. George Tourism Bureau launched a new “My Trip Planner”on its website, hoping to guide visitors to some of the lesser known southern Utah attractions.

“How many people have been horseback riding in Snow Canyon,” Jewkes said as an example. “We wanted to bring to light all of the other adventures and all of the other activities.”

The businesses are prepping for the new season, which they say starts with the school spring breaks and will really pick up when schools let out for the summer.

While it’s difficult to predict how one year will be, Harris said he sees more people every year.

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