Consider, for one example, Springdale, Utah (population somewhere just shy of 600), which sits on State Route 9 at the south entrance to Zion National Park. It is a town almost completely reliant on tourists trekking to Zion. And, yes. The residents there are worried.
Most who visit Zion to take in its stunning red rocks and breathtaking canyons — more than 4 million people went in 2017, making it the third most-visited park in the nation, behind only the Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon national parks — roll northward through Springdale. They stay in the town's couple-dozen hotels and inns, and eat at its restaurants, explore the back country via Jeeps and helicopters, and hike the trails and canyons with experienced guides.
Every business owner, every front-desk worker, every housekeeper, every guide, and every local in town has a stake in the most recent shutdown, now the third-longest in history, and soon could become the longest ever.
"It's sad that there are a lot of families that work at the hotel, families that are reliant on that business and for us to have enough people visiting ... They need those hours," says Gillian Trammell, the guest services and group coordinator at the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale. "But from the hotel's point of it, if our occupancy is really low, how can we afford to staff it? We're really lucky the owner of the Desert Pearl really does care about our employees. It hasn't impacted our staffing so much. But you never know. It is projected to be a very long shutdown, unfortunately."
This is the slow season for Zion, but Trammell — and you'd have to guess others in other businesses in Springdale — is fielding calls from potential visitors about how the shutdown is affecting the park. If things are bad, simply put, they don't want to come. Reservations already have been canceled. Business is down. It may not be the worst case yet. But it soon could be.
"If tourists don't come, that affects our budget," Springdale mayor Stan Smith told the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, pointing out that business taxes fuel the city's $5 million budget. "Where do I start cutting?"
Zion, luckily, is still open, unlike some parks across the nation. (On Jan. 2, campsites at Joshua Tree National Park closed because toilets reached capacity.) That's because several local entities — including the nearby city of St. George, Washington County, the Utah Department of Tourism and the Zion National Park Forever Project — have chipped in to provide money for some basic services.
But Zion during this shutdown isn't at its best. The park's popular shuttle buses, as of Jan. 5, are not running. And future funding for even limited services, despite an unprecedented move from NPS to unlock some money collected from entrance fees, is far from guaranteed, and controversial.
Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association released a statement on Jan. 6 in response to the NPS decision to release funds:
"National parks were already struggling before this government shutdown, operating with fewer staff and smaller budgets to sustain our parks. Rather than giving parks the funding they need, the president proposed slashing the parks' budget, which would have cut thousands of ranger positions. Now he wants to pilfer from entrance fees, depleting these badly needed resources to the point of wiping them out entirely."