In a town where magnificent spring weather is valuable stock-in-trade, the police chief is wishing for a cool spell. Rain would be nice, too.
A little bad weather might discourage some of the 10,000 to 15,000 teenagers who plan an Easter weekend trek to Utah's Dixie to let off the pent-up steam of winter, said Police Chief Jon Pollei.The annual gathering of youths - primarily from the Wasatch Front area - elicits a variety of responses from St. George's business community and local residents.
The police and other law enforcement/justice agencies hate it. So do many motel/hotel operators who remember trashed rooms from Easter weekends past. Even some local residents view the inundation of energetic teens as a good time to be elsewhere.
Merchants, particularly fast-food dispensers and those who cater to adolescent tastes, view the weekend as an opportunity for tapping the tourist trade.
"It's the best weekend of the year for us," said Craig Hammer, manager of Dick's Restaurant. "The kids are good business, no question about it." He said he has not had bad experiences with the youths, "but it's certainly a sight to see."
The city also stages a major art show during the weekend, encouraging families to come, said Chamber of Commerce Director Floyd Fox. The two crowds tend to congregate in different parts of the city, so there isn't much conflict there, he said.
John Tynes, night manager at the Coral Hills Motel, said he and his wife "are talking about going to Las Vegas, if we aren't too late for reservations down there." At the very least, they'll stock up on food and avoid St. George Boulevard during the weekend, he said.
"The boulevard is total chaos. The sidewalks are so full you can't get down them, and there are kids out in the streets."
The business merchants gain from the Easter influx could be balanced out by lost revenues from local residents who shun businesses while the teenagers are around, Pollei said. Many of the teenagers come to town on a shoestring, sleeping in cars or on the hillsides because they don't have the price of a room - if they could get one.
Pollei served notice that those kids out in the streets - or out of bounds in any respect - can expect police to be on the spot, rigidly enforcing the community's laws. His local force will be on duty at full strength through the weekend and will be supplemented by Washington County Search and Rescue members and a motorcycle unit from the Utah Highway Patrol.
"After talking with law enforcement in Palm Springs and Fort Lauderdale (Florida resorts that also have spring gatherings of youth) we decided the best thing we could do is strictly enforce all laws. We do make arrests." Last year, 318 youths were arrested, down slightly from the 333 a year before, he said.
The glut of arrests overtaxes the judicial system for a while, but Pollei hopes the word will spread and that the young people heading for St. George will decide that positive behavior is a great alternative to being arrested.
"We confiscate tons of beer," Pollei said. He is concerned that some older youths - in their early 20s - are joining the high school crowd in the resort. Some are coming from as far away as Idaho and Wyoming, he said.
"We wish the Wasatch Front parents would make their kids stay home or else come with them. Just to turn them loose down here is not fair to our community."
Motel operators also want adults to be with the teenagers. Many will not provide housing for unaccompanied adolescents. In instances where parents call and reserve rooms on a credit card, but don't show up with the kids, many of the motels charge a deposit to cover potential damages, said Tyne. The Coral Hills asks for $100 as protection against "trashing." But that doesn't make up for the "baby-sitting" motel operators have to undertake while the teens are in town, he said.
Fox said he could understand the desire of northern Utahns to "escape cabin fever" on the first nice spring days in Dixie, but acknowledged St. George has a major challenge in trying to funnel the energy of thousands of young people.
Several attempts have been made to provide entertainment such as concerts and dances, but they haven't been particularly successful he said.
"The kids are here specifically for some unstructured time," he said.
In summary, he said, "We have to look at it as stimulating business. We just feel sorry that some of the businesses take the brunt of it."