Despite U.S. 89 road closure, Page business owners optimistic about tourist season
Businesses move quickly to make adjustments following Feb. 20 landslide
PAGE, Ariz. - A landslide Feb. 20 on U.S. 89 closed the main road to Page requiring visitors to take a 45-minute detour. No one knows when the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will complete a shorter detour but businesses in Page are still optimistic about the upcoming tourist season.
"I gotta tell you it was moan and groan for about four hours," said Roy Boughton, executive director for the Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce. "That thing happened at about five in the morning, by nine it was the talk of the town."
After the initial shock had worn off it was time to think lemonades and silver linings, Boughton said.
"The whole town has reacted positively," Bougton said. "If you were to call tomorrow, if you called any of the hotels, they are really getting booked."
Colorado River Discovery runs river tours and the slide directly affected one of their tour packages.
"We spent four hours feeling sorry for ourselves and then we got to work," said Korey Seyler, general manager of Colorado River Discovery.
The tour company's original trip went down the river from the dam to Lee's Ferry. A bus picked up rafters at Lee's Ferry, which is a 45-minute drive from Page. Staff can't send a bus down any of the shorter routes so currently the trip would take more than three hours.
"That original route is out of the question," Seyler said.
Seyler credits his staff with brainstorming creative solutions and trying to solve problems.
"We were able to do that very quickly," Seyler said. "Luckily, with the help of our partners, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation that controls the dams here, we were able to come with options and opportunities for the guests that takes the burden off them while still allowing them to go on the river."
Instead of taking a bus back to Page now the company takes a raft back up the river.
This means more time on the river. His customers like that, Seyler said.
He also confirmed that business is up right now.
"March being our first month of operation for the year was actually up 11 percent over our busiest month in March ever," Seyler said. "So that is encouraging."
The response so far from people has been positive and most people don't know any different so they love it, Seyler said.
Seyler needs to run more raft trips because in order to push the rafts back upstream he can't have as many people on each raft.
"I need to have more guides to do that, more boats, more fuel," Seyler said. "It is about 25 to 30 percent more resources compared to last year. But it is either that or we throw in the towel."
During a normal busy season, Colorado River Discovery has a fairly large staff between guides, reservationists, retail staff, kitchen staff and management.
"That is another reason we weren't just going to throw in the towel, we are a place of employment for 60 people," Seyler said.
Page businesses want people to know they are not closed down but are open and ready for business.
"People believe that they can't get to Page, which is definitely not true at all," said Traci Varner, the general manager of the Page/Lake Powell Days Inn and Suites. "The detour route is actually a pretty ride. It's just a little out of the way."
ADOT recommends visitors to Page travel east from U.S. 89 on U.S 160 for approximately 50 miles and northwest on State Route 98 for 65 miles. The route is marked U.S. 89 detour.
ADOT also notes that the closure does not affect U.S. 89A north to Lee's Ferry, Jacob's Lake and Kanab.
While business looks good right now, Boughton said he wonders what the season would have looked like without the landslide.
"There's gotta be an effect. The question is, were we in for a really big season and we're just having a big season? I don't know what the answer is to that yet," he said.
More information on road closure or detours is available at www.azdot.gov/us89 or at (855) 712-8530.