As Kanab reels from pandemic tourism, officials hope kindness campaign can curb vandalism and litter

If being polite and refraining from littering, carving initials on trees, and defacing Native American petroglyphs seems like a no-brainer, think again.

In Kane County, which has become a magnet for first-time wilderness visitors, these misdeeds are things that area leaders, professional outfitters and businesses have frequently faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

“It can make your stomach sick,” said Camille Johnson Taylor, who runs the Kane County Tourism Board. “You think people would know better.”

Taylor’s office aims to kill these bad behaviors with kindness. And education.

Armed with $50,000, an infusion of cash from the county and a Forever Mighty grant from the Utah Office of Tourism, Taylor and her cohorts of tourists launched Be Kind to Kanab, a campaign to encourage tourists and locals to protect the city and the landscapes that make the region such a great place to visit and live.

The campaign is about teaching respect: respect for people, land and experience – all of which have suffered somewhat during the pandemic as people in coronavirus-ridden cities and suburbs have sought refuge in the great outdoors of Kane County and nearby national monuments. and parks.

There were more than one million overnight visitors to Kanab in 2020, according to county tourism officials. Overnight figures for 2021 are not available, but Transient Tourist Tax figures are, and they show a heavy influx of visitors.

TRT taxes for Kane County in 2021 were just under $5.3 million, nearly double the $2.8 million generated in 2020, according to state tourism officials.

But it’s not just about numbers. It’s also about the nature of the people who visit, many of whom are new to the outdoors. Unfortunately, many of these tender feet are hard on the county’s tourist attractions.

“A lot of them don’t have a lot of outdoor experience,” said David Hercher, public affairs specialist for the Paria River District of the Bureau of Land Management. “They don’t understand the negative impact that seemingly insignificant actions like writing their names on rocks, littering or burning trash can have.”

These impacts are increasingly visible throughout the region, particularly among professional outfitters who organize backcountry trips. A particularly affected area is Buckskin Gulch, about 47 miles east of Kanab.

“We find new graffiti every time we go,” said Kanab guide Paul Gagne, co-owner of Kanab-based Dreamland Safari Tours. “It’s really sad to see degraded petroglyphs because they are irreplaceable. And if you let the graffiti remain, it encourages others to do so.

That’s why Gagne and other outfitters often participate in site stewardship and trail cleanup programs that involve removing graffiti, feces, toilet paper, and other detritus littering the canyons and landscapes. picturesque.

For those new to nature, Be Kind to Kanab Campaign’s advice is simple:

  • Do not carve names or initials into rocks or trees.

  • Completely extinguish campfires.

  • Pick up trash and wrap it up when there are no trash cans.

  • And if there is no toilet, dig a hole for human waste away from a water source or pack it away.

To help visitors better respect the people, the campaign urges them to “engage with the locals” to better appreciate the culture of the region and to be patient while waiting to be served at local restaurants, many of which lack in quality. staff due to the pandemic. .

Be Kind to Kanab also teaches a greater respect for the outdoors so that tourists’ experiences in the backcountry are more awe-inspiring than nerve-wracking. This includes planning ahead, making sure they have a physical map, plenty of gas for their car, water and food for their hike, and appropriate clothing.

“We have people who are totally unprepared,” said Kane County Sheriff’s Lt. Alan Alldredge. “Some get lost or injured, or don’t have enough food or water. Terrain or weather can change and people will find themselves standing on hot rocks in 120 degree heat and out of the water.

To publicize Be Kind to Kanab, county tourism officials are touting the campaign on billboards, posters, table cards at restaurants and videos on its website.

They also use geofencing, an advertising technique aimed at people entering a specific geographic area. When people enter Kane County, they receive advertisements on their social media and mobile browsers on their smartphones that explain the Be Kind to Kanab initiative and direct them to the website to learn more.

Such efforts, Taylor explained, are aimed at improving the Kane County experience for everyone, not driving people away.

“We don’t want to discourage people from coming here,” she said. “Kane County depends on tourism. So we will continue to be nimble and responsive and ensure that this golden goose lays her golden eggs. »

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