They number 10,000-plus and they're here to party.
But spring break might not be the economic windfall it seems for little old St. George, qualifying instead as perhaps the nuisance of the year, according to some residents.In an annual rite of passage, the southern Utah town of 35,000 this weekend is being swarmed by teenagers on a quest for hormonal release. Preening and chest-thumping until the wee hours of the morning will be the late-night behavior of choice along St. George Boulevard.
It's a change of pace for a town that's usually asleep by 10 p.m.; in golf-happy St. George - a place whose entertainment is limited largely to teeing off and putting - alcohol-free line-dancing is as rowdy as it usually gets.
The shortage of after-hours entertainment is one reason the spring-break throngs clog St. George Boulevard for hours on end, doing by most accounts little else besides looking at each other.
"There's nothing for them to do rather than hang around and gawk . . . it's so bizarre," said Allison Bowcutt, owner of Seven Wives Bed and Breakfast, an upscale establishment that remains off-limits to roving youths.
"Every now and then a parent will call us up before spring break and ask, `Could you put our kids up at your inn and keep an eye on them.' "
"We say no, thank you."
Merchants in general aren't real excited about the young crowds, according to Chapin Burks, executive director of the St. George Chamber of Commerce.
"Obviously they don't bring with them a lot of money other than for food and that type of thing . . . the business community probably looks at it as maybe a deterrent," said Burks. "If the street is crowded, bona fide customers might think twice about going into an establishment."
Sandia Hyre, arts coordinator for the city and an organizer of the 16th Annual St. George Arts Festival, says that event's simultaneous occurrence with spring break works better than it used to. She said that's because local police a couple of years ago orchestrated a strict crackdown on alcohol consumption during the festive weekend and put extra officers on the streets to discourage overly raucous merrymaking.
"They've done a real good job getting word out that they won't tolerate a lot of misbehavior," said Hyre.
"Adverse publicity" might scare off some who would otherwise come to the arts event, but Hyre said she still expects 15,000 visitors in town just to browse her event's 120 arts-and-crafts booths.
Police Chief Jon Pollei isn't saying anything at all to reporters about the upcoming weekend, but Burks said Pollei approached the business community merchant-by-merchant earlier to ask them to support a crowd-control strategy.
"The primary goal," said Burks, "is keeping them moving and not letting them congregate."