Flagstaff Tourism Held Up Despite Partial Forest Closures
A decision by federal officials in May to close parts of the national forest around Flagstaff caused concerns about lost spending during the peak tourist season, but cooler temperatures apparently were enough to draw visitors to the mountain city.
The Coconino National Forest and four others in Arizona implemented partial closures because of fears of catastrophic wildfires amid severe drought conditions. Other land management agencies imposed fire restrictions.
The Arizona Daily Sun reports that vacationers still visited Flagstaff despite not having access to popular forest recreation sites around the city for about six weeks, including all of June.
A key indicator was an increase in sales tax revenue for Flagstaff. The city said it was 11 percent higher in June than in the same month last year. The city's tax on bars, restaurants and hotels — called the bed, board and beverage tax — increased by 8 percent.
Areas closed by the Coconino forest included Mount Elden overlooking Flagstaff's east side and Mormon Mountain next to Mormon Lake, which is southeast of the city.
Camping in the forests isn't the only reason people — particularly residents of Arizona's desert cities — visit Flagstaff during the summer, said Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith.
"Their primary drive is not to build a campfire, their primary drive is to get out of the heat," Smith said.
Anthony Quintile, general manager at Absolute Bikes, acknowledged the closures created some trouble for businesses.
However, Absolute Bikes saw it as an opportunity to direct visitors to lesser-used trails, he said.
"It was interesting to have an excuse to send people someplace else and see that they had a lot of fun riding those trails," Quintile said. "They're fun trails."