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State lawmakers floated the Colorado River and hiked into Arches National Park in eastern Utah on Thursday as part of a two-day field trip in which legislators heard from local officials in tourism and counties that depend on energy development.
The raft trip and park visit Thursday morning were not just fun excursions, said Rep. Jim Dunningan, R-Taylorsville, the House majority leader who helped organize the trip. The trips help lawmakers understand how vital tourism is to the Moab area and the impact more visitors and federal regulations are having on the local economy, he said.
Dunnigan cited a jump in visitors at Arches that has led park officials to consider adopting a shuttle system to cut the number of cars in the park. Arches was temporarily closed on Memorial Day weekend amid a crush of traffic.
More than 80 lawmakers are on the trip, which wraps up Thursday.
They have been shuttled around by three buses, where they heard from rural mayors, county officials and representatives from tourism and energy-extraction industries. No official votes or other action will happen on the trip.
It’s part of a revived annual tour that the Legislature stopped taking when the recession hit in 2008. With the economy improving, legislators decided last year to reinstate the trips to get a firsthand look at outlying areas.
State tourism and county officials told lawmakers about their efforts to balance mining and other energy-extraction efforts with a tourism economy dependent on unspoiled natural landscapes.
As lawmakers wound their way on Wednesday night to Dead Horse Point State Park, they saw oil and gas wells tucked off the road.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said there’s a big difference between hearing officials testify about those issues in hearings at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City and experiencing it in person and seeing how intertwined the industries are.
“I just didn’t understand that dynamic until I came out here and heard it and saw it face-to-face,” Osmond said.
Lawmakers on Thursday are set to visit sandstone formations at the San Rafael Swell, a coal power plant in Castle Dale, Utah, and wildfire damage and a water project on the way to Fairview, Utah.
The Legislature is paying about $70,000 for the two-day excursion, which includes an overnight stay at several Moab hotels.
The 19 senators and 62 House representatives on the trip are expected to return to Salt Lake City on Thursday night.