ST. GEORGE — Utah’s tourism industry can reduce its impact on communities if businesses work with cities, counties and land management agencies, a panel of industry experts said last week.
The Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism hosted a workshop Nov. 8 with speakers from the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, Leave No Trace, San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services and the National Parks Conservation Association.
Cory MacNulty, southwest region associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said the group is involved in many partnerships, often leading them, and plays different roles. In Utah, community-led collaborations are the most sustainable and have the most significant impact, MacNulty said.
“A decade ago, we initiated the state’s first Gateway Community Forum,” he said. “Today we often participate as a stakeholder. So we provide expertise in both regional and national perspectives.”
An example, MacNulty said, is the Zion Region Collaborative, which formed the foundation of the Gateway and Natural Amenity Initiative. The communities at the south entrance to Zion National Park work together to address the challenge of the large number of visitors to Zion National Park.
“Some of their greatest success stories are around transportation planning,” MacNulty said, “as well as the communities working together to get larger pots of funding for multi-use trails. And public transportation from St. George into Zion National Park.”
Another example is the Zion Region Recreation Planning effort, supported by the Zion Forever Project and facilitated by the Conservation Fund, she said.
“This is the next step in looking at Zion National Park, the neighboring public land agencies, the communities and the county working together to create a mosaic of recreation opportunities across the landscape,” MacNulty said.
The groups are working on sustainable tourism and Zion National Park, addressing their visitor use management and how that impacts the neighboring public lands and the communities.
The final example MacNulty shared is the private landowner partnership with Zion National Park and how they’ve brought in several stakeholders on the park’s east entrance. The project is known as the East Zion Initiative and focuses on creating a vision for a new gateway community at the east entrance to Zion National Park.
Another successful example of reducing tourism’s impact is Grand County’s “Do It Like a Local” campaign. Tourism, especially around Moab, has been building every year and was negatively impacting the local community, Elaine Gizler, former director of the Grand County Economic Development Department, said. Gizler is now the director of San Juan County Tourism and Economic Development.
“I began listening to and learning from individuals in the community, what they what and what was the most upsetting for them. What was bothering them?” Gizler said. “And then determining how we could put a program together.
“The people in Grand County and Moab love the community, and I thought they speak volumes to how we should treat the public lands, how we need to respect what we have here, and how can we keep it here for generations.”
She joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, became certified and met people worldwide. Gizler worked on different projects with that council. She was able then to implement some of those things into her community.
The campaign “Do It Like a Moab Local” involved many groups in the area, including lodging, ATV/UTV and supermarkets. They cooperated to have a consistent message, which educated visitors to care for the place like it was their own. The tourism board provided marketing materials, videos, billboards and T-shirts.
“We have the businesses marketing materials so that when a visitor checked in, they could explain to the visitor a little bit about this program,” Gizler said. “We included the UTV companies in making the videos, and the companies could show the visitors renting UTVs and talk about no high banking and taking water.”
With the increased visitation on public lands, increasing UTV traffic through Moab’s residential neighborhoods started to create a noise problem. The Grand County Economic Development Department worked with the Sand Flats Recreation Area and other land agencies to produce a UTV video detailing minimum impact practices and proper in-town behavior. They added the video to discovermoab.com, posted it on social media, and played it in local hotels.
The current director of the Grand County Economic Development Department, August Granath, said his office strives to protect the area and the quality of life.
“Outdoor recreation destinations are facing unprecedented challenges and pressures as they seek to provide quality visitor experiences, protect environmental and cultural resources, and preserve the high quality of life for community residents,” Granath said. “We are no longer actively running the’ Do It Like a Local’ campaign in 2022 and beyond. However, we are reflecting on its successes and challenges as we look to the future.”
Granath said his office is crafting the next phase of responsible recreation-oriented visitor education messaging.
Gizler said another part of the campaign’s “Do It Like a Moab Local” success was partnering with the National Leave No Trace non-profit. Gizler said they worked diligently over two years to educate visitors before coming to Grand County. They focused on what is expected of visitors and what the community would like them to do.
Andrew Leary, director of Sustainable Tourism and Partnerships with Leave No Trace, said their mission is to make people aware of a conservation solution. This focus helps minimize the impacts that occur when humans spend time outdoors, and consequences can include trash, litter, and more.
Leary said Leave No Trace works with federal agencies, state partners, and community groups. He said they work with large and small groups.
“The No. 1 thing is always the desire to minimize recreation and visitation-related impacts, which I think used to be much further apart than they are now because of the pandemic,” Leary said. “There are a lot of things that gateway communities are experiencing that are unique. But urban areas themselves have their own unique challenges for visitation and recreation.”
Another guest speaker was Betsy Byrne, landscape architect, National Park Service – Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. She helps communities in the early planning stages. Byrne often assists communities decide with they can partner. For example, it could be a local, state or federal agency that they need to work with. Or they can coordinate with non-profits and local user groups like local bike or ski clubs. Or it could be a local business or school that can get involved in their project. Communities need to understand the perspectives of partners, too, Byrne said.
“You can have your own goals, but you need to understand the partners and where your goals align,” Byrne said. “One recommendation I would have for communities working with public land managers is to take the time to understand their mission and the constraints agencies have going into a partnership. Then you can build expectations and goals that align.”
Another point the panel brought up was that each community is different in how they can approach reducing tourism’s impact on their area. When Gizler was in Grand County, Moab was the central city. But now, in her role in San Juan County, there are more communities in that area. When she arrived in 2021, Gizler listened to Bluff, Blanding and La Sal residents.
“Each community is so different, and we brought the residents to listen to them because I had no idea what they were facing and thinking,” Gizler said. “I’ve gone back to some of those notes over the year to make sure I’m working towards some of their concerns. So, for me, it was beneficial to get out into each of these communities and learn from those individuals that live there.”
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