A small town outside Zion National Park copes with COVID-19 changes

Trish Jennings watched customers dining 6 feet apart outside her Bit & Spur Restaurant and Saloon on an evening in mid-August, missing the usual gregarious chatter of outdoor adventures.

Springdale, a small southwest Utah town sits just outside the gates of Zion National Park, and most of the restaurant’s customers arrived after a day exploring the park’s 2,000-foot-deep canyon. Jennings, 53, and her staff are accustomed to swapping hiking and camping stories with thousands of visitors every summer from all over the world, often forging new friendships.

For many residents like Jennings, those daily exchanges were essential to the town’s spirit, often making it seem bigger than a community of 660 people. But the COVID-19 pandemic — along with Springdale’s new social distancing measures and mask requirement — have given the easygoing, sociable town a subdued feeling this summer.

While tourists have steadily returned since the park reopened on May 13, there are still fewer than usual — 449,518 recreational visitors in July, down from 629,802 the same time last year, with few, if any, coming from outside the country — and the conversations in restaurants, shops and motels are shorter and more transactional. Many of the town’s elderly residents are staying home, avoiding the crowds at the park.

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