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Utah Wooed Tourists, and Boy, Did They Swarm

'Outside' magazine looks at the resulting congestion in parks
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2020 7:47 AM CST
Visitors mingle around Delicate Arch to watch the sunset in the Arches National Park in Utah.   (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Leah Hogsten)

(Newser) – The ad was a "masterpiece," writes Mark Sundeen at Outside magazine. The 60-second spot in 2013 commissioned by Utah's Office of Tourism extolled the beauty of the "Mighty 5"—referring to the five national parks within the state's borders. Those would be Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. Utah was looking to drum up tourism, and, boy, did it ever. The number of park visitors rose dramatically, from 6.3 million to 10 million in a span of just three years, and Sundeen details the consequences. Think long lines, unprecedented park closings because of overcrowding, and outhouses adorned with signs that Sundeen says might sum up the parks' current plight in a nutshell: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

Other factors played a role in the tourism surge, including population booms in Denver, Salt Lake, and Las Vegas, notes Sundeen. And the story gets a little meta when the mayor of Moab tells him: "Does Outside magazine understand the irony of looking for the villain of the degradation of red-rock country? Outside magazine, along with Instagram and the Mighty Five ads, are the top reasons this place is crowded.” She would know: Tiny Moab, the gateway to Arches park, has a population of 9,500, but it now has 36 hotels, 600 overnight rentals, and nearly 2,000 campsites. Sundeen's story looks at the upside of all this, too, along with how the quest for soul-purifying trips has been commodified, and how Utah is trying to shift attention away from the "Mighty 5" to some lesser-known sites, also to the chagrin of locals. (Read the full story.)

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