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Shutdown has Utah bike industry scrambling

Published October 8, 2013
The Outerbike demo event was held outside Moab this weekend.
Shutdown, so far, is good news for bike rentals

MOAB, UT (BRAIN) — The bike industry in this famous riding area is scrambling to adapt to the federal government shutdown, which has closed the nearby national parks and other federal facilities during high season for mountain bike tourism. 

So far, the week-old shutdown has led to just a handful of canceled reservations for Western Spirit Cycling, a mountain bike tour company. The company's employees have been able to persuade its clients that it has alternatives to its popular multi-day trips on the White Rim Trail and the Maze trails. Each of those trails are in Canyonlands National Park and are closed.

"We are trying to scramble around. We have people driving around in the middle of night (scouting trails and camp sites) so we can still take trips and not have to give people their money back. We are trying to save their vacations and the Moab economy," said Ashley Korenblat, CEO of Western Spirit.  

Korenblat said there are plenty of options: Many of the most popular Moab trails are on Bureau of Land Management land or on state, county or local land. Those trails remain open, although campgrounds on BLM land are closed. 

A group of Utah businesses that rely on the parks — including bike shops, bike tour companies, hotels and others — sent a letter to Utah's congressional delegation on Friday, urging them to resolve the standoff in Washington. 

"These public land closures put at risk Utah’s outdoor industry, which annually contributes $3.6 billion in wages and salaries and over $856 million in state and local tax revenue," the letter reads. 

The letter pointed to the shutdown's effect on Utah's federal employees, tourism-based businesses and locals who want to visit attractions in their own state. Signees include Steve Flagg, the owner of QBP, which has a distribution center in Utah. Poison Spider Bicycles, Moab Cyclery, Outerbike and Western Spirit also signed the letter, which was sent by the Utah Outdoor Business Network. The UOBN will have a conference call with Utah Sen. Mike Lee on Wednesday to discuss its concerns, Korenblat said.

Hotels and motels are suffering the most so far, with reservation cancellations pouring in. Utah Hotel and Lodging Association president Jim Burgess told KUTV that one hotel in southern Utah has already reported the cancelation of about 2,000 room nights.

The shutdown is not all bad news for Moab bike shops. With the national parks closed to driving, hiking, 4x4 tours and rafting, some visitors are opting to rent bikes, instead.

"We have 90-plus rental bikes, and 85 of them are out today. And it's a Tuesday," said Amy Walling at Poison Spider Bicycles, one of the largest retailers in Moab.

At nearby Rim Cyclery, general manager Kelby Groff said a couple  people had canceled their rental reservations, but walk-ins were making up the difference.

"So far, I haven't seen my numbers plummet because of it; a lot of people are coming in," said Groff. 

If tour companies like Western Spirit have to cancel trips, that would affect his business in the longer term, he said.

"A lot of folks come to town and do a three- or four-day trip, then at the end of the week they might stop by to do some shopping. So we'll see what happens. If the shutdown continues it might have some effect on us."

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