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The threat of a government shutdown Friday had business officials around Zion National Park fretting about an economic calamity just as the spring tourist season warms up.
"Disaster," Springdale Chamber of Commerce President Dean Cook warned hours before the looming federal closure. Losing southwestern Utah's tourism anchor "could be our tsunami."
On the other side of the state with possible closures hanging over Arches and Canyonlands national parks reservation lines in Moab were eerily quiet.
"Usually our phones are ringing off the hook," said Andrea Martin, lodging director for the condo rental service Moab Lodging and Property Management. "We haven't had calls for this weekend."
The silence could be partly due to a wet forecast. Still, she said, people stopped calling about this weekend a week ago.
At Zion, spokesman David Eaker said a park closure could furlough 150 workers, though a skeleton staff would remain. Campers would have to leave the park. Shuttle service would stop. About 8,500 visitors a day would be allowed only to travel on State Route 9, which runs between the two park entrances. Zion's lost revenue could hit $35,000 a day.
Cook, who manages Zion Park Inn, said even if a closure lasted only a few days, it could take weeks to get visitation back on track. This is the beginning of the busy season, when tourists book up to 95 percent of the rooms.
Cook said customers began calling at his 120-room motel Friday to cancel reservations. "Along with rising gas prices, [Washington] doesn't understand what this does to us guys."
Ben and Lorrie Parris understand. The Sequim, Wash., couple live near Olympic National Park and hoped to spend a couple days in Zion but were thwarted by Friday's soggy weather.
"When you look at communities like this," Ben Parris said, "something like this can be hurtful."
Tama Bevan and her husband, Hugh, of Sitka, Alaska, drove to the area to visit Zion, the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon national parks. They lamented the prospect of park closures.
"I want to send my $25 entrance fee back to Washington to get a refund," Hugh Bevan said. "I had a desert fantasy going until I got here."
The outlook for Moab is better next week, with the start of the annual Jeep Safari a raucous rock-riding week that relies mostly on Bureau of Land Management trails that won't close. But tour operators worry an extended shutdown would force them to offer refunds or alternative trips.
Canyonlands officials told Bob Jones at Tag-A-Long Expeditions that his crew still could jet-boat down the Colorado River to its confluence with the Green River, to pick up multiday float trip parties expecting a ride out of the park this weekend. After that, though, trips not yet on the water couldn't enter the park.
It could mean that instead of floating from Mineral Bottom Road south through the park, Tag-A-Long would drop passengers near the city of Green River and fetch them by van at Mineral Bottom.
"The scenery's very similar," Jones said, "but some people want to come do the jet boat out from the confluence."
The potential diversion makes a recent government action especially timely. Mineral Bottom Road, washed out last year by flash floods, won congressional assistance in construction funds and just reopened in late March.
Rim Tours, which operates multiday guided bike trips into Canyonlands, would face uncertain itineraries in a protracted shutdown, office manager Maria Olschewski said.
"We're just hoping like everyone else," Moab economic-development specialist Ken Davey said, "that things get ironed out."