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ECONOMIC CLOUDS OVER GREEN RIVER ARE LIFTING THANKS TO NEW JOBS, TOURISM

SHARE ECONOMIC CLOUDS OVER GREEN RIVER ARE LIFTING THANKS TO NEW JOBS, TOURISM

At first blush, Green River is a town in decay.

Tumbleweeds strain against a wire fence, while dust devils swirl across the long-abandoned trailer court. Deserted homes and businesses fall further into dilapidation with each passing year.On the edge of town, a crumbling drive-in theater screen stands as a monolith to better times - times that evaporated in the late 1970s when the uranium market crashed, and in turn, the local missile base closed its doors for good. Entire neighborhoods packed up and left, along with the town's tax base.

Green River sunk deeper into a spiraling economic depression that even 10 years later has left its unmistakable scar on the riverside community - a scar that greets tens of thousands of visitors who pass through on their way to somewhere else.

"We've got an image problem," admits Blaine Luke, Green River city councilman and superintendent of Green River State Park. "People drive through and they see a depressed uranium community."

Travelers view the community as nothing more than an overgrown truck stop, a place to buy a burger and fill up with gas.

But winds of change are blowing a new optimism through Green River, Luke says. "I think we've turned the corner. There are so many positive things beginning to happen. Finally."

For the first time in years, new homes are being built and trailer courts are beginning to fill. The town is negotiating with several large businesses contemplating a relocation here. And there's a first-class museum to river runners under construction on the banks of the Green River.

The high unemployment rate has been cut significantly due to highway construction and uranium tailings removal projects. They are temporary jobs, but they offer regular paychecks - something folks here welcome.

And city fathers are also making strides to capitalize on the tourism boom in nearby Moab, trying to attract more visitors to the west side of Canyonlands, as well as the San Rafael Swell.

"We have everything Moab has and more with the San Rafael Swell," said Luke. "It's just a matter of letting people know, getting them to come here."

Moab has become an incredibly popular destination because of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point. Green River also has Canyonlands, as well as the San Rafael Swell, but it traditionally has been ignored by tourists.

Green River nevertheless is beginning to feel the spillover effects of the tourism boom in Moab. When motels in Moab hang out the "No Vacancy" sign, motels in Green River 50 miles away begin to fill. And both Green River State Park and Goblin Valley State Park are seeing increased visitation.

"There's a feeling that tourism in Moab grew too fast and that they can't handle all the visitors," said Luke. `We have to capitalize on that. We aren't a destination location, but we could be."

But for that to happen, Green River must spruce up its image, Luke said. It needs simple things like curb and gutters, sidewalks, buildings with a fresh coat of paint.