Originally Published April 15, 2015
Letter to the Editor: Utah is not taking care of its own, Springdale and Zion suffering
An Open Letter to: Utah Travel Council, Staff, Board, Utah State Legislature, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Washington County Commissioners, Washington County Visitors Bureau.
I live in Springdale, Utah, the gateway community to Zion National Park. I have lived and worked here for 15 years. The population of Springdale is about 548 people and neighboring Rockville is 250…including elderly, youth and children. A cordial population that you and 3.6 million visitors take for granted.
We are the greeting staff to national and international travelers. The reported triumph on the state media services of the 30 percent rise in visitation to Zion National Park ignores the back-story of what is truly going on here. We have become an ant hill. This is a narrow canyon with a two lane road. There is only one way in and one way out. In your meetings have you ever discussed the costs of such impactful visitation numbers beyond the cha-ching of coins in business, county and state coffers? Have you discussed the costs on the backs of local residents, service workers and National Park employees as well as conservation of Zion, a National Treasure?
Allow me to tell you some of those costs. You might say we are bringing jobs. No, you are bringing tourism and unsustainable consumerism to a fragile ecosystem. The medium income in Washington County, Utah is about $21,000 a year….unlike the larger Park City of Wasatch County which is about $80,000 overall income.
The jobs here are minimum wage jobs and most workers do not live here but in Hurricane or St. George. Yes, this is a business friendly state, but not a worker friendly state. Every time the legislature makes a TRT Room tax hike for the tourists (now over 12 percent) the bulk of this money is divided through the state to maintain travel council and visitor bureau salaries and business endeavors. Well and good, but not enough shows up in Springdale.
Yes, the pressure of extreme tourism to our canyon environment and the infrastructure of small town Springdale is costly. We need funds here for improved infrastructure, NOT more advertising or international promotion or junkets for travel council employees. It seems visitor bureau grants are only given out for advertising an event, not paying anyone. It is difficult to walk or even drive across SR 9 when there is a two mile road back-up to the entrance gate to Zion. Again, there is just a one two lane road here.
We need stop signs…crosswalks, more sidewalks and bike lanes…but not more parking lots. The RV traffic is perilous because the town, the tunnels, the park cannot accommodate it…though the Park has been expanding their Visitors Center lots…it is not the solution. In March on just one Saturday we had 2400 hundred run the half marathon from Virgin to the Park Entrance (and they were running and not driving). The fee to the runners was $95.00. Times $95 by 2600.
After permits…Rockville received from the Vacation Races Company, just $1000 as thanks to the local volunteers. Thanks folks, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!!!
Where does the man power and monies come from to support these tourist entertaining events? Not from the promoters or state legislature and travel council, but from the local tax paying land owners, stretched small town coffers, local volunteer residents and local business owners. Who puts on the not-profit Earth-Day, music festivals, Fourth of July & St. Patrick Day Parade or Z-Art events? The goodwill of Rotary & Lions Club fundraisers, the state Humanities Council, local business owners and unpaid volunteers.
We now have three franchise hotels in Springdale, La Quinta, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express…unfortunately; their community involvement ends with the corporate responsibility to their investors. This year, due to national politics, the Zion National Park (The Golden Goose) is understaffed and a dollar short because their budget funding comes from the Federal Government and those wheels move slowly. Not to mention the supposed Class 1 air quality the National Park is supposed to strive to maintain; all those added parking lots encourage greater passenger car traffic and the air keeps getting hazier and more polluted with ozone and PM 2.5 from increased off- road vehicle traffic.
Recently, because of the ad blitzes, the Zion Park employees (guardians of the natural world …some of who are volunteers) are stretched to exhaustion on a daily basis. Those who work on the East side of the park may end up adding one and half hours to their work drive time because of the daily tunnel traffic. It has become Disneyland without the rides and efficient crowd & car control.
The National Park does its best with its limited funding. Again, it is a monumental effort just to keep all the visitors on the designated trails. The Narrows Hikes (get a hepatitis shot before you go) and the more dangerous Angels Landing hikes are becoming as busy as Madison Avenue at rush hour. Think trash and river sewage, it is our new reality in the canyon!
Many local citizens and park employees would like to request that you stop your ad blitzes which must cost thousands, if not millions. Please, please direct some of that money toward funding the necessary and oft time deficient PTI shuttle system. This system is so necessary, but totally overwhelmed. It is short of buses and drivers. The present drivers have been driving 10 to 11 hours with few breaks and forced to make unsafe maneuvers. Outside town parking was figured out in Telluride, Colorado years ago.
Perhaps, the town shuttle could be extended to a parking lot west of Rockville to relieve the traffic on SR9 and in Springdale proper. What about our Paramedic and Fire Protection services which basically give free assistance to the tourists any day at any time? Up until last year, Rockville/Springdale Fire Protection was volunteer. This year out of desperation and fairness to the volunteers…our Fire Protection tax was doubled to provide for wages and equipment that will meet state codes. We are fortunate to have excellent medical staff in our one room trailer clinic. But because the clinic runs on a shoe string (It isn’t profitable enough for a Health Corp. to keep it going.) the medical staff must work part time in Salt Lake and St. George in order to keep the clinic open during tourist season.
Again, could the legislature pass funding for our town’s antiquated sewer system which backs up in hotel rooms and private residences? How many toilet flushes and showers of 3.6 million tourists can the Virgin River accommodate? Springdale has three full time overwhelmed maintenance workers. We need a full time maintenance worker just to put out recycle bins, pick up the daily trash and empty sand cigarette holders at shuttle stops. Not everyone coming to the canyon respects nature, but again resident volunteers pick up trash in our parks and in the river for the very reason they chose to live here….a respect and love of the uncontaminated natural world. Do any of you work for free?
Our Town Planning Commission and Town Council do. And would you work for free to assist 3.6 million visitors to your home yearly? Would you even work cleaning hotel rooms here? There is always a shortage of housekeeping staff. How about working as a park employee full-time with a part time seasonal status with no health care or retirement benefits? Or perhaps being a restaurant server at $2.50 an hour where your income is chicken today and feathers tomorrow. Remember, there is a fine line between being a business friendly state and exploitation.
Maybe it is time to raise the minimum wage in Utah. I hear the legislature is thinking of raising the governor’s salary. I moved here in 1998. My property taxes were $700 and now in 2015 my Washington County taxes are up to $1800….and probably climbing. It seems Zion is the goose that lays the golden egg for many. But the geese are leaving from the onslaught which is taking its toll on park wildlife…fewer birds, fewer foxes, fewer everything but more helicopter noise from daily air tours.
Can we love Zion too much? Where is the ecological sustainability plan? Yes, unwittingly your promotions are causing us to pave paradise and put in a parking lot….lots of lots.
Betina Lindsey- Springdale Resident
“We can run but we can’t hide!!! Why don’t they thin their own dam herds?”