The city is pushing for the east entrance to the Grand Canyon to reopen

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) – Grand Canyon National Park officials tentatively plan to reopen the east entrance to the park in late May, but a small town in northern Arizona that depends on tourism has a mood that would be better sooner.

“Our sales tax for this year is down nearly 30% year over year,” Darren Coldwell, manager of Page City, told the Arizona Daily Sun. “Our Horseshoe Bend attendance is down 80%. So when we say our numbers fell off the ground, they really did. “

The east entrance of the Grand Canyon and the highway leading to it, State Route 64, were closed last spring as a courtesy of the neighboring Navajo nation, which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The tribe’s huge reservation in the Four Corners area reported nearly 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 1,219 deaths on Tuesday, when only two new cases and one more death were reported.

A nightly curfew to contain the spread of the coronavirus remains in place on the reservation, but the slowdown in the outbreak has led the Navajo nation to begin a partial reopening of some businesses and other facilities. Two of the tribe’s four casinos will reopen on Friday.

The Navajo Nation roads will remain closed to visitors, but the Navajo Nation Council is considering a bill to lift those closures – which will not affect the freeway into the park.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill Diak fears the continued closure of the freeway will cause permanent damage to the city’s economy and small businesses.

According to Diak, Page has been marketing itself for years as part of a circuit for tourists visiting national parks and monuments in the southwest.

However, when State Route 64 was closed, the loop route was interrupted.

“People come from Vegas and come one way on I-40 and do the south rim of the Grand Canyon, go on to Page, Lake Powell, or they go on to Monument Valley, come back in the other way,” said Diak. “Both Utah and Arizona have been marketing this for years, and then it has finally caught on in the last three years. Now we’re going to lose it all. “

Many campsites on Page-Lake Powell Campground are currently empty.

“Since the spring break in March, our campsite has sold out every weekend until Thanksgiving for the past five or six years,” said Ron Colby, who manages the campsite and a nearby bait shop.

Colby said business was down 78% compared to 2019. Last summer there were a few weeks that approached normal usage but eventually decreased.

Diak and Coldwell, the city administrator, have campaigned for park officials to reopen the highway.

Park spokeswoman Joelle Baird said Superintendent Edward Keable was considering reopening the east entrance on May 21 before Memorial Day weekend.

Baird said the final decision would only be made after careful consideration and consultation with the tribal leaders.

Other factors to weigh are the park occupation to reopen the entrance and the possibility of changes in the pandemic, Baird said.

The section of State Route 64 through the Navajo Nation outside the park is a popular spot for street vendors looking to take advantage of tourist traffic. However, these services continue to be banned by the tribe’s public health authorities.

Jared Touchin, a spokesman for Tribal President Jonathan Nez, said these restrictions could be resumed soon if the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the reservation continue to fall.

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