SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's "Mighty Five" national parks collectively drew more than 10 million visitors in 2018, and even negative publicity over monument reductions by the Trump administration did not result in visitation decreases from 2017 to 2018 as some critics feared.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument drew 982,993 visits in 2017, compared to visits to its reduced units of 1,157,916 last year, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
At land managed by the Monticello field office of the BLM in San Juan County where then-President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, it saw 403,179 visits in 2017, compared to 417,601 in 2018.
Obama designated Bears Ears at 1.35 million acres in 2016 and a little less than a year later, President Donald Trump slashed it by 85 percent and turned it into two distinct units in a move under legal challenge.
The federal agency estimates that the newly created Indian Creek saw 187,000 recreation visits in 2017 and Shash Jaa saw 37,000 recreation visits.
In fact, as the drive for monument designation in San Juan County ramped up, recreation visitation jumped 64 percent from 2013 to 2017, according to the BLM.
Lisa Bryant, BLM's Canyon Country spokeswoman, said visitation across southeastern Utah has steadily increased over the last 10 years. Indian Creek in particular, she added, accounts for nearly 70 percent of the recreation use in the Monticello office area. At Cedar Mesa, the hike to House on Fire accounts for much of the increased day use.
Visitation is booming elsewhere.
Bryce Canyon National Park, which has attracted more than 2 million visitors since 2016, once again enjoyed a record-setting year in 2018, drawing an additional 107,794 visitors. Altogether, 2,679,478 people stopped in to check out the largest area of hoodoo formations in the world.
Zion National Park once again hit the top 10 list for the nation's most-visited national parks, attracting just over 4.3 million visitors in 2018.
But its numbers were down slightly from 2018, with 184,779 fewer people walking through the entrance gates last year.
Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding, said there are a couple of reasons Zion visitation may have declined last year.
"Angels Landing was closed for several weeks due to rock slides. Other trails in the park were closed as well. In addition, we believe that news about crowding at Zion may have influenced reduced visitation," she said. "Meanwhile, state park visitation continues to increase while growth in national park visitation is growing at a slower rate."
The state tourism office, too, is trying to improve the visitor experience by distributing demand to state parks and other destinations.
"We are pleased that our marketing campaign has played a role in distributing demand to state parks instead of just national parks. It leads to a better experience for visitors and the local communities. "
Canyonlands National Park also experienced a slight decrease from year to year, with 2,822 fewer visitors from 2018 compared 2017.