While the rest of Utah closes tourism, anglers are flocking to Daggett County and some are concerned

The fishing was great around the hamlet of Dutch John in eastern Utah, maybe a little too big.

Most Utah and Colorado fishing and river destinations are closed to commercial tours and equipment in light of the coronavirus epidemic. That said, Daggett County is still welcoming visitors while some John-based Dutch operators are booking trips to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and the Green River with the start of the spring fishing season.

However, some services have ceased operations, including Matt Lucas of Western Rivers Flyfisher Guides, who cites the inability to maintain reasonable social distance when interacting with customers from across the country.

“I cannot responsibly follow these guidelines in a 16-foot boat with three customers,” said Lucas. “You would have to row the boat from the stern and the other people in the bow to do this. They say you can lead, but take all precautions you can. For me, taking every precaution doesn’t mean taking customers out on the river and inviting people to Daggett County. “

As with hotel and restaurateurs, Utah’s guides, who play a vital role in connecting tourists with the state’s public land, have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. At the request of the area’s health authorities, state agencies have closed national parks and rivers and suspended permits from commercial guides and outfitters based in cities like Moab, Springdale, Kanab, and Vernal.

This has not yet happened in Daggett County, Utah’s northeast corner bordering Wyoming and Colorado, where water-based recreation is the lifeblood of the economy.

The Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River below the dam will remain open to private boaters and the guides and outfitters who operate with permits from the US Forest Service. However, downstream sections have been closed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, including the Yampa tributary through the Dinosaur National Monument.

The Flaming Gorge Dam visitor center normally opens on April 15, but the US Bureau of Reclamation announced it would remain closed to support Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s “stay safe, stay home” policy . The Ashley National Forest has closed some popular waterfront resorts, including State Line Cove, Linwood Bay, and Swim Beach.

Stay afloat

Unlike many other local health authorities, the TriCounty Health Department, which includes Uintah, Duchesne, and Daggett counties, has not requested restrictions on outdoor recreation. While Grand, Summit, and other neighboring counties have warned visitors to stay away, these three counties are welcoming them.

“We want to keep the economy afloat as best we can so that the transition will be easier when things return to normal. We have a great community. They understand what we’re trying to do, “said TriCounty spokeswoman Liberty Best.” When it comes to recreation, we want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors. If you want to go camping, go camping; Just make sure that everyone is in the same household and keep social distance from others. “

As with all companies operating during the epidemic, TriCounty expects equipment services to adhere to strict protocols, including screening of employees and customers.

“Anyone who shows symptoms related to COVID-19 is not allowed on the premises,” said Best. “We ask people to wear face coverings and to practice social distance as much as possible.”

Companies that offer fishing trips on the green include Flaming Gorge Resort, Dutch John’s largest tourist company, which offers a range of services. Woody Bair, who oversees the resort’s facilities, admitted that he was pressured by some locals to stop offering trips but declined to discuss the matter in detail when he was contacted on Thursday.

“We’re just trying to keep our business going,” he said.

Lucas said Ashley National Forest officials have urged guide license holders to identify the steps they are taking to minimize the risk of disease transmission while serving clients, but he wonders if it is time for the forest service is to close the river and reservoir – as federal and state agencies in Utah and neighboring states have done.

“It’s hard to tell these people what to do,” said Lucas. “You have to see how that could affect this city and its residents and how many people who live here are at high risk.”

Ashley spokesman Louis Haynes said Wednesday he needed clearance from Forest Service headquarters before speaking to the media about coronavirus issues. The forest service had not responded until Thursday evening.

While state officials have tried to discourage outsiders from inviting to Utah during the pandemic, they don’t want leadership services to collapse.

These companies are a vital pillar of Utah’s outdoor economy and play an important role in educating guests about how to responsibly relax in Utah’s scenic areas, said Tara McKee, program manager, Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. Not only do these companies take employees off and cancel trips, they also have to reimburse customers’ deposits with money they may not have on hand.

“The debris will be used to get the guides through the winter and buy supplies,” McKee said. “This money is being spent and I’m sure some of these people want that money back.”

Delayed Refunds

Lucas said many of his regular customers had told him to keep deposits and that they would postpone a trip for the next year. His outfit has since changed his cancellation policy to refund deposits up to the day before the trip.

During the high season, Western Rivers Flyfisher Guides typically employs up to a dozen guides and eight shuttle drivers. Lucas has suspended all of his operations, including shuttling those floating the green in private boats.

To get boaters back to their vehicles from takeouts, multiple customers must be packed into a van for a journey of 45 minutes or more. Lucas believes the risk of transmission is too great to justify offering this service.

He provides professional assistance to his employees on leave with completing papers for receiving benefits under the state’s Coronavirus Relief Act, known as the CARES Act.

Daggett, Utah’s smallest county of just under 1,000 residents, has yet to report a COVID-19 case. The nearest medical facility is an hour away in Vernal. TriCounty Health Department reports 10 cases (six in Uintah and four in Duchesne) of hospitalization.

“We don’t have a test center. Nobody is tested. If you know, it’s too late, ”said Lucas. “If we get cases up here, it could affect more of our season. If we lose July, August and September it would be extremely devastating. “

He said he understands the need for the Flaming Gorge Resort to keep running as it has a large overhead to bear, while independent guides like Western Rivers are running tight in comparison. The resort also offers amenities and services such as accommodation and lunch to help it and the other area fishing guides better serve their customers during normal hours.

“You are in a more difficult situation than me. I don’t blame them for doing what they can to survive this [crisis] as a company, but I don’t know what it will cost, ”he said. “It’s a pretty big game of chance.”

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