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Parks shutdown causing economic emergency for Utah communities, county leaders say

Published: Monday, Oct. 7 2013 10:55 p.m. MDT

As the government shutdown keeps a closed sign on national parks across the country, hindering local tourism, nine Utah counties have declared a state of emergency due to "economic disruption."

Brian Skoloff, Associated Press

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ST. GEORGE — As the government shutdown keeps a closed sign on national parks across the country, hindering local tourism, nine Utah counties have declared a state of emergency due to "economic disruption."

Commissioners from Washington, Kane, San Juan, Garfield, Sevier, Grand, Iron, Wayne and Piute counties met Monday, along with representatives from Coconino and Mohave counties in Arizona, to discuss the strain on tourism-dependent communities near the parks.

A week into the shutdown, tourism has dropped off sharply, county leaders said, leaving communities such as Springdale "eerily empty" in what should be the final weeks of its busiest season.

In a declaration sent to Gov. Gary Herbert, county leaders said the internal disturbance in Washington County is damaging enough to warrant declaring a local emergency.

The governor's office has received the declaration and is reviewing it, said Ally Isom, Herbert's deputy chief of staff.

Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said he expects other Utah counties to adopt similar resolutions.

"We definitely need to get (the national parks) reopened. It's been a huge financial impact on us already," Gardner said, adding that he hopes the state will intervene either by helping reopen the parks or contacting federal government leaders about Utah's plight.

The declaration emphasizes that a significant amount of Washington County residents rely on tourism dollars from the 3 million annual visitors who travel to Zion National Park, which also reaches into Iron and Kane counties.

"A significant portion of the annual visitors come to Zion in the month of October to enjoy the fall temperatures and avoid the summer crowds. By no means has the tourism season ended at the beginning of October," the declaration states.

Other areas of Washington County, 75 percent of which is federally managed land, are hurting from the closure of campgrounds and areas frequented by hunters each fall, according to the statement.

Businesses in Garfield County have also seen a painful drop in patronage since Bryce Canyon closed, county leaders added, while other communities near national parks are seeing similar impacts.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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