It’s a silver linings season with Utah’s national parks. While chaos continues in Washington, D.C., Utahns are hard at work protecting the visitor experience and the natural resources at our most visited parks.
Many other national parks across the country are clogged with sewage, trash and frustrated visitors, while Bryce and Zion national parks continue to provide a welcoming experience to pristine red rock. The Utah Office of Tourism Red Emerald business strategy puts customer service as a key driver, and we mean it.
Utah’s silver linings playbook is straightforward. Everyone works together to figure out what each can offer, steps up quickly, and communicates constantly to perpetuate success.
Of course it’s easier said than done. Write a check to the federal government with a no refund clause while the federal government is shutting down at the beginning of the Christmas holidays? Well that’s tricky. Here’s the all-star cast that made it happen and some key plot twists they were up against:
One-week countdown to shutdown: Tom Adams, state outdoor recreation director, led as statutorily required to identify key priorities based on projected visitation.
Imminent shutdown: Gov. Gary Herbert, Chief of Staff Justin Harding and Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) Director Val Hale were quick to approve a Utah Office of Tourism plan to reallocate operating project funds for park visitor and custodial services. New Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson agreed it was an important time to do good.
Emergency phone call with national parks superintendents: On Dec. 19, we brainstormed with national park, monument and BLM leaders how we would team tag to do right by customers and keep the parks clean.
Action plan: Dave Williams and Jay Kinghorn went into high gear to organize communications and transfer of money.
Delivering the check: Ridiculously hard, but Lorraine Daly pulled it off. Ask her about transferring a check on Friday night, Dec. 21 to Jim Ireland of the National Park Service at her Sandy condo. Thanks to state treasurer David Damschen and his team, including Jason Nielsen and Jay Blades, also Cory Weeks in State Finance, and Kamron Dalton and Sean Brownell on the GOED finance team.
Shutdown Part 1: National parks employees delivered big time the morning of Dec. 22, welcoming an unprecedented volume of visitors at Arches, Bryce and Zion national parks for this time of year. Shout out to Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh, Bryce Canyon Superintendent Linda Mazzu and Arches Superintendent Kate Cannon. Amazing what “furloughed” federal workers can do to make sure their teams deliver. Cindy Morris, Aly Baltrus and Scott Brown at the parks all kept the parks running and kept us informed. Kate Hammond and Tara Riggs at NPS in Denver helped too. Rosie Serago kept visitutah.com/shutdown constantly updated. Emily Moench fielded dozens of national and regional media inquiries.
(Christmas): That came and went with Rosie, Dave Hansford and Ben Dodds helping nearly 200 visitors on visitutah.com web chat and phone calls. Yes, even on Christmas Day.
Shutdown Part 2: Another tortured round of check writing to the federal government? Yep, that’s what we did. Dec. 26. Sandy Olney at GOED delivered this round. Practice makes perfect on giving money to the feds.
Shutdown Part 3: The Utah Way. With the holidays winding down, visitation projections at Arches declined, but customer demand at Bryce Canyon and Zion remained high. Enter Zion Forever Project director Lyman Hafen and Bryce Canyon Natural History Association director Gayle Pollock. Both foundations stepped up for the first part of the year. Board chair Lance Syrett shepherded all of it.
Shutdown Part 4: The Utah Way on Steroids. Did I mention that in Utah our problems are big enough to see and small enough to solve? Next came a phone call from Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox with an offer to help. A four-way agreement to share costs between Washington County, St. George city, Zion Forever Project and our office came together in a matter of hours. Thanks to St. George Mayor Jon Pike for incredibly fast engagement. Note that Commissioner Cox had yet to attend his first meeting as a member of the Board of Tourism Development. No board member has done so much before their first meeting in the history of the board.
Relief from Interior: Congressmen Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart stepped up next, convincing Department of Interior to use fee revenues to support the parks. Gordon Larsen in the governor’s office helped make that happen.
UDOT plows & Arches Reopens. Carlos Braceras and Rick Torgerson from the Utah Department of Transportation joined our rescue team this week. Rick got Arches plowed, and Superintendent Kate Cannon reopened the gates, thanks to a contribution from the Canyonlands Natural History Association.
More plot twists to come, I’m sure. I’m also sure that there is nothing better than doing good with good people. Looking forward to continue to do right by our customers and our scenic treasures the Utah way.
—Vicki Varela, Managing Director