Utah businessman donated $100,000 to keep 3 national parks open during shutdown

From left to right, Bob Steiner, Vicky Varela and Sen. Dan McCay announce the unprecedented $100,000 donation.

Bob Steiner, president of textile company Alsco, announced Jan. 24 that his company would underwrite costs to continue keeping basic visitor center services open at Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks through Presidents Day weekend. According to Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, the $100,000 donation was a national precedent.

Visitor spending in the Utah tourism industry totaled $9.1 billion in 2018, according to McCay, the majority of which was generated by visitation to Utah’s big three national parks: Zions, Arches and Bryce Canyon. The gates were scheduled to close earlier in the year with funds running low because of the record-long government shutdown. This came as a major threat to Utah’s tourism industry as Utah historically welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors in February.

“This is the only situation in the country in which one company is underwriting the costs to keep three of the national parks open with skeleton crews,” McCay said. “Days like this make me proud to be a Utahn. We are taking a different path than most states by bringing public and private partners together to solve a difficult problem.”

Alsco Inc. is a four-generation family owned business located in Salt Lake City. The name is an acronym that stands for American Linen and Supply Company. With laundry plants all over the worlds and many big-name clients, the company is now a homegrown global leader in the textile industry.

Steiner, who recently sustained an ACL injury from a skiing accident, attended the meeting in a cast and crutches to make the announcement. He commended the Zion Forever Project, the Canyonlands Natural History Association, Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, St. George, Washington County and the Utah Office of Tourism for their combined support of Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks during the government shutdown that began on December 22.

“These efforts have helped tens of thousands of visitors have a safer, more pleasant visit to the parks. We hope to discourage some of the bad behavior we’ve heard about in some of the other national parks around the country,” Steiner said. “We are pleased to join you financially to help in your efforts to maintain these beautiful parks. Today, we are making a donation of $100,000 to our three most visited parks.”

Steiner said the donations were determined based on the historic visitation numbers to the parks, Zion being the park with the most visitors and Bryce Canyon having the fewest of the three. The donation amounts were allocated accordingly. Zion Forever Project received $62,300, Canyonlands Natural History Association received $19,600 and Bryce Canyon Natural History Association received $18,100.

Though the government was announced to reopen just hours after the meeting, Steiner upheld his donation promise and designated the money to the park’s highest priorities to be determined by each benefactor. It may still take time for employees to get paid and for regular park activities to resume; however, the parks have remained open. Tammy Eberhard at the Zion Forever Project mentioned the donation will now be designated to future projects to be implemented in Zions National Park according to Steiners wishes. 

“We would encourage other Utah based companies and individuals to join us in this effort and make a donation to these foundations to help protect these beautiful landscapes,” Steiner said.

Vickie Varela, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said this has been a season of silver linings.

“Its kind of amazing as the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., has continued, it has created an imperative that we do things right here in Utah both in the public sector and the private sector,” she said.

Alsco announced that because of the end of the government shutdown before Presidents Day weekend, the remaining funds will be allocated to high priority park projects to be determined by the individual constituents.

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