Utah national parks see slight visitation decrease, welcome more domestic visitors

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Arches National Park, along with other national parks in Utah, saw a bit of a decrease in visitation this year due to COVID-19. (Universe Archives)

Park rangers say more Americans are making the drive to visit Utah’s national parks. Despite the park closures in early 2020 and international travel bans, Utah’s parks have seen fairly steady visitation numbers since reopening.

Zion

Several national parks closed down for a short period starting in April. Susan McPartland, a visitor use planner at Zion National Park, said Zion had a temporary suspension of operations, which resulted in a slight visitation decrease.

Even with a small decrease, McPartland said visitation numbers are staying somewhat steady. She said usually around this time of year, there would be more international visitors coming to the park, but instead, she’s seeing that more people from the continental United States are coming to visit.

“Something we’re looking at is trying to really understand our demographics changing, how we inadvertently almost reached up a new audience of people who maybe haven’t been coming to the park,” McPartland said.

Along with visitation decreases, McPartland said annual revenue for 2020 will likely also decrease since revenue is directly related to visitation. McPartland said another reason for decreased revenue is that other revenue sources at the park, such as Zion Lodge, shut down for a period of time.

Arches and Canyonlands

Canyonlands and Arches also saw a decrease in visitation this year, according to Angela Richman, Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Visitors Services for Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

Because of international travel suspensions, a lot of international tourists weren’t coming to the National Parks this year. “I think that that would be one of the reasons why we haven’t had as many visitors,” Richman said.

According to Richman, July 2020 visitation at Arches was down 5% from 2019, and August 2020 visitation was down 8% from 2019.

Canyonlands July 2020 visitation was up 9% from 2019, but then went back down in August, 14% lower than 2019. “Normally we don’t have as much visitation in August anyway because that’s our hottest month of the year,” Richman said.

Richman said Canyonlands and Arches have been right on track with revenue for the year. “Since we re-opened the parks on May 29th and started collecting entrance fees again, we are at roughly 90% of normal fee collection,” Richman said. “However, since the parks were closed from late March to late May, we still are down the two months of revenue when we weren’t collecting entrance fees.”

“Once we reopened it was a little bit slower than it normally would have been,” Richman said. “But then the longer we’ve been open, the more visitors that have been coming.”

Bryce Canyon

According to Bryce Canyon’s Chief of Visitor Services Amanda McCutcheon, the numbers of visitation are down this year, but they’ve been steadily increasing since the park reopened in May after closing for almost the whole month of April.

McCutcheon also attributes some of the decreases to the suspension of international travel but sees a trend with more Americans coming to the park. She said with the foreign travel restrictions in place there’s been a big reduction of those usual visitors. “But what we are seeing is a lot more Americans within a two to 10-hour driving radius that are coming to our parks.”

Revenue for Bryce Canyon is also expected to be a little lower because of the suspension of fee collection earlier this spring, McCutcheon said.

Even with a decrease in visitation, McCutcheon said this Labor Day was one of the park’s busiest Labor Days ever on record.

Despite all the unexpected events this year has brought, McCutcheon believes Bryce Canyon has been able to provide as normal a season for visitors as possible.

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