Thousands flock to Utah parks over Memorial Day weekend

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 6:15 p.m. MDT

For the first time since 2000, all 32 shuttle buses at Zion National Park were full over Memorial Day weekend, during which about 80,000 people visited the park.

Zion National Park

ZION NATIONAL PARK — The 32 buses at Zion National Park — all full to capacity for the first time in 14 years — were reflective of the scene at many of Utah's national and state parks over Memorial Day weekend.

Zion National Park set a new record for the weekend with more than 80,000 visitors — a 20 percent increase from last year, according to park officials.

Parking lots inside the park were full early, and shuttles that run through the park were at full capacity for nearly 12 hours each day, park officials said.

Officials at Arches National Park say they also had a record-breaking number of vehicles Sunday, though visitor numbers for the weekend were not known Friday.

Collectively, Utah's five national parks had more than 6 million visitors last year, according to the National Park Service.

Utah's 39 state parks saw 113,500 visitors over the holiday weekend — a 15 percent increase from last year.

Several state parks underwent recent improvements, which may have contributed to the spike in numbers, according to Eugene Swalberg, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.

Willard Bay State Park, which was closed after 600 barrels of diesel fuel were spilled last year, reopened just prior to Memorial Day. The park has a new nature trail and parking facilities, and saw about 14,500 visitors — more than any other state park, according to the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.

A new zip line was installed at Yuba State Park, and new cabins and campground facilities were built at Starvation State Park. Most reservoirs had favorable water levels for recreationists, Swalberg said.

Since 2003, annual state park attendance has increased by more than 200,000 people, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Jay Kinghorn, a spokesman for the Utah Office of Tourism, said the high volume of visitors over the weekend may be indicative of a busy summer-to-come for national and state parks.

"We're hearing from our partners, particularly in the southern part of the state, that they're having much higher than normal requests for literature and travel guides, and hotel and lodging properties are booked over the summer weekends through October," Kinghorn said. "We certainly hope that the strong starting weekend for Memorial Day will be a trend that will continue through the summer."

In 2012, tourism generated $960 million in state and local taxes with total traveler spending reaching $7.4 billion annually, he said.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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