Extended North Rim season could pump $14.2 million into regional economy

Season of change?

Parts of northern Arizona could see an additional $14 million if the North Rim stays open an extra four weeks a year. (Loretta Yerian/WGCN)

Parts of northern Arizona could see an additional $14 million if the North Rim stays open an extra four weeks a year. (Loretta Yerian/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — According to a recently-released report, communities surrounding the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park could see an economic impact of about $14 million per year to the region if the national park extends its open season by four weeks.

The report, which was prepared for the Coconino County Board of Supervisors by the Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute in the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University, found that keeping the North Rim open an additional two weeks in October and May would support an additional 183 jobs in addition to the $14.2 million boost to the tourism economy or many surrounding communities.

Grand Canyon’s North Rim Lodge currently closes on Oct. 15, although the park’s North Rim visitor center remains open until Nov. 1. After that date, the only road into the North Rim developed area, Highway 67, may close immediately as weather conditions warrant. On Dec. 1, it closes regardless of weather.

The study estimated that extending the season by four weeks — two weeks earlier in May and two weeks later in October, could result in an additional 37,719 visitors to the region, adding up to daily earnings of just over $230,000 for local communities like Page. On the other hand, a longer season would mean over a half-million more in payroll costs and about $93,000 more in maintenance and operations costs for the National Park Service.

Page is one of the last cities with many tourism amenities on the way to the North Rim.

Judy Franz, director of the Page Chamber of Commerce, said tourists to the area often mentioned that they would like to see it open longer.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is that they’d like to see it open longer,” she said. “They come here in October and the weather is really nice and they would love to go, but it’s closed.”

Franz said many of the businesses in town would benefit from a longer season.

“If they go there (the North Rim), they come here,” she said.

Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler has been a strong supporter of an extended season, saying it will provided security and consistency for many business owners in communities on route to and from the North Rim. Fowler said several communities on the Navajo Nation, as well as communities such as Page, Fredonia and even Kane County, Utah, would reap economic benefits.

“In September, businesses begin slowly shutting down, and by October 15, they have laid off all or most of their employees, and they try to stay open a little bit longer for hunting season,” she said. “After that, they have to shut down.”

Fowler said the businesses then have to spend time and resources reopening, hoping their employees return or hiring new ones and training them.

“It’s a constant cycle of uncertainty,” she said. “People don’t stop coming just because (the North Rim is closed), but they take a different route,” meaning they don’t stop to patronize the few businesses that remain open.

Some business owners, like Betsy Hager, who owns the North Rim Country Store with her husband Tyler, say unpredictable weather affects their bottom line, and the decision to stay open or close isn’t an easy one.

“I would love to say yes, it would be great to open and close by an extended two weeks, but there is a lot more to it,” Hager said. “As a business owner, you have to know that your fixed costs are covered and you are making a profit.”

Hager said, for instance, that she can’t promise guests a reliable water supply because cold weather means the spigots must be covered and the water tanks may not be accessible if there is a moderate to heavy snowfall. She said the lines to the RV park are drained to prevent breaks.

“To redo all the infrastructure, preparing for worst-case scenarios in extreme weather, would be cost-prohibitive for a six-month operation,” she said.

Stocking the store is also difficult to predict, Hager said, because if the weather is nice, the stock might be sold, but if the region experiences a cold snap or inclement weather, very few visitors will come to buy it.

“What do we do with the leftover stock? It is not easy to know who will come in those two weeks and what they will buy,” she said.

Grand Canyon Nationa Park spokeswoman Emily Davis said the park understands the impact it has on surrounding communities and says it is working with community partners to provide as much help as possible.

“We do keep some things open past Oct. 15, such as ranger programming and the visitor center,” she said.

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