GREEN RIVER – Many rural towns across Utah are facing the same question — how to change and attract more visitors for a better local economy. One Emery County town is about to find out, and a new multimillion-dollar hotel might be the start of it all.
Change happens slowly if you give it enough time. Not only are the bends and flow of the Green River an example of that, but so is the small town of Green River.
"It's true," said Shannon Johnson. "I have seen some changes here in the past few years."
Johnson is raising a family in Green River and has lived here for several years.
"A lot of people come and say, 'Why do you live out here in the middle of nowhere in this little, small town?' But we love it," she said.
Johnson is also the general manager of a new Holiday Inn Express that opened on the west side of town in February.
"I am betting it is definitely the most expensive building and the largest building ever built in Green River, Utah," she said with a laugh.
It's part of the change Green River is hoping for.
City administrator Conae Black said city leaders hired a consulting firm three years ago to try and find ways to get visitors to stop for more than gas and snacks.
Often, those visitors would visit a gas station in town and then get back on Interstate 70, heading to places like Moab or Grand Junction, Colorado.
"We needed to look at what our strengths and weaknesses are," said Black.
She said the town is looking to bolster its industrial and manufacturing areas, but she also knows tourism is a big part of the area.
"We have a lot of hidden treasures in our community," said Black. "Maybe it's time we share some of our hidden secrets."
The city is also looking at new recreational opportunities, like its first mountain biking trail, the first dirt bike rally set for later in March and plans to create something nice along the river.
However, to capitalize on the strengths, Black admitted the city needs to focus on its weaknesses.
Namely, the appearance of the town. There are many older run-down buildings with broken windows up and down Main Street.
Black knows that first impression might keep visitors from spending time here.
"Eventually we'll get it cleaned up and looking better and make it a place where people want to come," she said.
With Moab continuing to grow fast, Johnson said she has seen more people looking to stay overnight in Green River because it's usually cheaper for a hotel room.
Moab is about 45 minutes south of Green River.
"We have seen some of the overflow here," said Johnson. "We have a lot of guests that come and say it's a little bit cheaper and less congested."
Even though the new Holiday Inn Express has only been open for a few weeks, Johnson said it has already attracted people to come off I-70 who might not have normally done so.
"They told us they don't usually stop here," said Johnson. "And then when they ask for things, we tell them where to go. We have already sent hundreds of guests to the restaurants, the grocery store, the hardware store. Things like that. So this new hotel is already making a difference for everybody."
It all starts with a little change.
"I hope great things continue to come here," said Johnson. "It really is a great place."