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Government is closed, but business is open

Cady McGovernThe government has shut down, which means Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, both of which draw tourist traffic to eastern Idaho, are closed.

According to The Associated Press, thousands of disgruntled tourists are being turned away from park entries, and gateway cities expect to start losing money if the shutdown continues much longer.

But for tourists willing to make the best of a bad situation, the shutdown could be a great opportunity for eastern Idaho businesses.

Sure, eastern Idaho’s no Yellowstone, but there are lots of things to do in the area that can at least give tourists a taste of what they’re missing. It’s up to eastern Idaho businesses and destinations to let those tourists know Yellowstone’s not the only game in town.

For example, visitors denied access to Yellowstone can check out some geothermal activity at Soda Springs’ captive geyser or soak in natural hot springs at Heise Hot Springs. For tourists upset that they’re missing Yellowstone’s wildlife, Harriman State Park is a 16,000-acre wildlife reserve 37 miles west of the national park. There’s also a wildlife park near Rexburg for anyone who can’t bear to leave the area without seeing some bison, elk and (of course) bears.

A different sort of geology is available about three hours from Yellowstone, for the more adventurous traveler. There’s a dig-your-own opal mine in Spencer, and road-trippers willing to drive another three hours can enjoy more hot springs in Challis.

All along these drives are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife and scenic views.

Photographers upset about missing a view of the Tetons can head over to Driggs for a look at the Idaho side. It’s different, but still beautiful.

Anglers who were hoping to drop their lines into the water at one of the parks still have plenty of opportunity to catch some trout in the South Fork of Idaho’s Snake River if they purchase an Idaho fishing license.

All-terrain vehicle enthusiasts can check out the St. Anthony Sand Dunes, and technology lovers may be interested in the Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum in Rigby.

And between all these opportunities to turn a disrupted vacation into a memorable experience are cities and towns with restaurants, hotels and gas stations where travelers can rest and plan the rest of their journey.

Plus, any furloughed workers have some sudden free time on their hands, and without the time to plan a vacation, now is the perfect time to take advantage of nearby opportunities they’ve been meaning to get around to someday.

So if you own a business in eastern Idaho, pull out your ledger and see if you can’t spring for a little extra publicity this week to let tourists know their vacations aren’t doomed. Congress may not be able to get its act together, but I know Idahoans can.

Cady McGovern is Focus editor for Idaho Business Review. She spent her teenage years in eastern Idaho.

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