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Utah’s national parks report mixed season for visitors

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Oct. 13, 2019 at 5:47 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Zion National Park is reporting well over a half-million monthly visitors to its park from May through September and isn’t on track to slow down anytime soon, a National Park Service database shows.

The park ensconced in a canyon is a popular recreation destination point for millions of U.S. residents, as well as international visitors who want to immerse themselves in the spectacular geographic landscapes and embark on adventure with its many hiking trails, including the daunting Angels Landing.

But Utah’s four other members of the “Mighty Five” national parks show slight dips in visitation from the end of August of 2018 to August of 2019, the latest numbers available on the database.

Jim Ireland, Utah state coordinator for the National Park Service, stressed the numbers are still preliminary and needed to be vetted in the coming weeks for authenticity.

Still, he said, the results are a bit of an anomaly.

“When you look at the numbers, I was surprised that statewide our numbers have dropped,” he said. “I am not sure anyone knows exactly why.”

Year-over-year comparisons as of the end of August show Arches slipped just 0.33% in visitation, Bryce dropped by nearly 3%, Canyonlands had a drop of 1.25% and Capitol Reef had numbers of visitors that were 1.63% lower.

Ireland said he doesn’t know if the publicity over crowded parks may be having an impact or if a state tourism campaign celebrating other areas adjacent to the parks is influencing visitors.

“It’s something to watch,” Ireland said.

Park visitation could reach a natural peak and also tends to ebb with factors like the price of gasoline, the strength of the U.S. dollar and more, he added.

“It will be interesting to watch to see if this pattern continues.”

Actual park visitation statistics on the national database can be skewed by a variety of factors, including incorrect counts from failed equipment.

That scenario is what is confronting the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is showing a 27% decline in visitation on the database, a number spokeswoman Mary Plumb said is inaccurate.

“Believe me, it is driving me crazy,” she said. “We are very concerned about it.”

The recreation area experienced a failure in its visitation counters and is trying to get the number fixed on the national database. Based on actual revenue, she added, the recreation area is experiencing one of its best seasons ever.

Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam and its Rainbow Bridge National Monument drew 4.3 million visitors in 2018, which she said eclipsed that of any other national park unit in the state.

She pointed to a June report released by the National Park Service that showed the recreation area’s visitors generated $417.5 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,118 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $283 million.

“We really want to get it (the database) corrected with an asterisk,” to point out the data collection problems, she said.

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