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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Zion National Park Closes Due To Coronavirus Concerns

The sun sets on a red and white banded canyon wall, as a river runs along the valley floor below.
David Fuchs
The view from Angel's Landing, one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park, which closed Friday to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

ST. GEORGE — Zion National Park closed indefinitely on Friday in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Gary Herbert announced the closure during a press conference, which the National Park Service soon confirmed. 

The move adds Zion to a growing list of national parks across the country, which includes Arches and Canyonlands, that have shut their gates to visitors in recent weeks to try to block the spread of COVID-19 in rural communities. 

The decision comes on the recommendation of the Utah Department of Health and at the request of several local mayors who had raised concerns about the public health risks posed by continued traffic to the park from out-of-town visitors.

Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh spoke to that risk in a park service press release about the closure. 

“Zion has been carefully assessing our ability to provide a safe environment amid this crisis and in making progressive changes to operations as needed,” he said in a written statement. “However, visitors are continuing to come to the park from all across the country at numbers difficult to maintain social distancing.”

In a letter to the Southwest Utah Board of Health, the Springdale Town Council reported that over 9,000 vehicles had passed through the park gates last weekend. Most of those cars had non-Utah license plates, they wrote, a fact that likely introduced the virus to the community and undermined the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive.

Herbert touched on this issue during his remarks while also delivering a pointed message to Northern Utahns who might be lured south by warmer weather.

“If people think somehow that they can leave their primary residence on the Wasatch Front and go on to a vacation home or a hotel in Southern Utah, you’re not interpreting our directives correctly,” he said. “If you’re on I-15 right now, I’d ask you to turn around and come home.”

Zion’s closure marks a significant disruption to the spring tourist season in Southwest Utah.

The fourth-most visited national park in the country, Zion drew upwards of 4 million visitors to the region in 2019. Cutting off that traffic is expected to have sweeping economic ramifications across the region.

Springdale, for example, which sits right on the park’s south entrance, has projected an approximately $9.2 million loss in hotel room revenue — a figure the town council described as a “severe economic impact” to the roughly 600-person community.

An hour away, the far more populous city of St. George will not be spared either.

“This is huge,” said St. George Mayor Jon Pike, referring to the effect of the park’s closure on local business. “But if it ends up that we’re erring, we’d rather err on the side of caution.”

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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