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National Park Closure ‘Devastating’ For Garfield County Businesses

PANGUITCH, Utah – Despite some recreation areas reopening, Bryce Canyon National Park’s closure has been devastating for local businesses that depend on tourism driven by the park.

Normally, it would take a bit of an effort to hear the music coming out of the speakers outside Ruby’s Inn.

That’s why it was ironic to clearly hear a Patsy Cline song about being lonely.

 “This time of year, usually, the parking lot would be full, and people would be standing around and doing things and it would be busy,” said Lance Syrett, manager of Ruby’s Inn.

However, the entire place was empty Tuesday, and it’s been like this for a few weeks.

“I mean, it’s bad. I can’t say enough about how bad it is,” said Syrett. “I keep saying it’s almost biblical how bad it is. It’s catastrophic.”

Ruby’s Inn manager Lance Syrett.

Ruby’s Inn is located at the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is part of the reason it has been so successful over the years.

“If Ruby’s Inn was anywhere else in the world, we definitely wouldn’t have been as successful as we’ve been for the last 104 years,” said Syrett. “I mean, it’s everything to our operation.” 

Now that Bryce Canyon is closed because of coronavirus concerns, hardly anybody was traveling to the area.

In fact, Syrett said the hotel set a record last week — one he hopes will never happen again.

“Since we started being open year-round about 40 years ago, we’ve never had a day when we rented zero rooms, and that happened last Sunday. We literally rented zero rooms,” said Syrett. “Just to put that in perspective, the year before on the same night, we rented about 644.”

Syrett said he has had to lay off workers because of the economic downturn.

No parking signs line the road to Bryce Canyon National Park, which has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know what to say. We’re just hunkered down and trying to get through this,” he said.

There’s more to see and do in Garfield County than just Bryce Canyon.

Visitors normally start showing up in April to see different rock formations, hike and enjoy driving along Scenic Highway 12, which was designated as an “All-American Road” in 2002.

Tourism is everything to the county and local businesses rely on that tourism to survive.

“Those dollars are what keeps us going,” said Ralph Perkins, who owns the Cowboy’s Smokehouse Restaurant in Panguitch.

Even Panguitch, which is the county seat of Garfield County, was emptier Tuesday.

It was noticeable with all the closed businesses.

Panguitch was noticeably empty on Tuesday.

“This dining room would normally be, even this time of day, would be over half full,” said Perkins. “I’m keeping it going because I’m hard-headed. I feel like this is the right thing to do for this community and to give people hope.”

Perkins was keeping his restaurant open, but only for curbside pickup and reduced hours.

He also had to lay off almost his entire staff.

“One lady had been waiting to get on our staff for three years,” said Perkins. “I was finally able to have a position for her and I had to lay her off.” 

That can be hard to do in a rural community like Panguitch because you know most of the people.

“They’re our neighbors and our friends and people you see out in the community,” said Perkins. “They’re not people that can go to a big box store to get a job. We don’t have that here.”

The Cowboy Smokehouse Restaurant would normally bring in thousands of dollars a day in sales.

Ralph Perkins, owner of Cowboy’s Smokehouse Cafe, said the county’s tourism dollars are vital.

Now, Perkins is lucky to make a few hundred a day.

“I don’t know how long I can keep doing it. I don’t know how long I can keep doing it physically, mentally and for myself,” he said.

Perkins certainly isn’t alone as the whole county is feeling it.

“It’s rough. It’s really rough. It’s devastating to most of our local businesses,” said Falyn Owens.

Owens is Garfield County’s tourism director and knows how important tourism is here.

“We rely on it heavily,” she said. “It’s pretty much our only industry. We need tourists and we’re normally just getting started.”

Owens said the county would normally get about a couple hundred thousand dollars a month from hotel room taxes.

Now, they’re looking at maybe $5,000.

“We ran some anecdotal numbers and that’s what we’re thinking we’re going to come out with,” said Owens.

However, everyone here believed things will turn around at some point.

“I generally think that tourism will be one of the first industries to rebound,” said Perkins. “I really do. It’s in our human nature to travel and want to see things and we are blessed with the best in the world of scenery to come see.”

“When this starts to pick up, please come here,” said Owens. “These rural communities in Utah are going to need some big support.”

It’s just a matter of getting to the other side of the current coronavirus concerns.

And what businesses survive.

“This is going to reverberate for years, the damage that this has done,” said Syrett.


Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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