FEATURE – As a national park goes, so does its gateway community.

Springdale, the gateway to Zion National Park, used to be a quiet, peaceful town, a place whose business proprietors made the bulk of their income in the three-month summer season. At that time, few visitors came during the “shoulder season.”

Now there is practically no shoulder season. The season once ramped up in May. Now it starts ramping up on Presidents Day weekend.

In 1960, there were 575,800 visitors to Zion National Park. In 1980, that number rose to just over a million. In 2000, the year the Zion shuttle began, the park hosted 2,432,348 visitors. In 2021, over 5 million visitors came to view its splendor.

As the gateway community, Springdale accommodates many of those visitors through its lodging, eating and guiding establishments.

Some of those businesses have been around a long time, a few operated by the same family for over 40 years. Many old-timers pine for the time when there were fewer visitors, no permit system for popular hikes and no shuttle, both in the park and town.

This story highlights a few long-lasting Springdale businesses, seen through the eyes of those who have operated them.

There is one theme in all these stories. All of the business proprietors who shared their memories are not Southern Utah natives, but they visited and fell in love with Zion and Springdale and wanted to make a go of it in the midst of spectacular scenery.

This historic photo shows Grandma’s Kitchen as it looked at the time the Smith family purchased it, circa early 1970s | Photo courtesy of Trisha Clark, St. George News

The Bumbleberry Inn

The Bumbleberry Inn takes its name from the establishment that preceded it. “Grandma” Constance Madsen, who with her husband, Julius, owned and operated Grandma’s Kitchen, came up with the recipe for what became known as “Bumbleberry” Pie in a pinch when a bus full of tourists came in and she was lacking any single pie filling to feed the crowd. She put together pies filled with whatever berries she had on hand. The pie was an instant hit and became a staple which eventually became the business’s name. There is even a song about “Bumbleberry Valley” that Madsen’s grandchildren sung to tourists.

The Madsens sold their business to what became known as Bumbleberry Enterprises in 1968.

In the early 1970s, Howard Smith, a Salt Lake City Certified Public Accountant, and his brother, Rowe “Bill” Smith, traveled to Southern Utah to look into a business for sale in Virgin. On that trip, they stopped at the Bumbleberry Inn and heard that it was for sale and decided to purchase it instead.

Howard’s son Stan, who now owns the business, said his father sold everything to make the deal happen. Howard’s other siblings, Karl and Alma, also went in on it, too. Alma and her husband, Lawrence Young, became the proprietors of the nearby Zion Park Motel while Howard took the Bumbleberry Inn. Rowe Smith left before the end of the first year after the purchase.

Howard and his family moved to Springdale in February, 1972. At the time, Stan was 13 years old and the hotel was a brand-new 24-unit structure. The Smiths threw themselves into the business. Howard did a little bit of everything to keep the business going. His wife, Wilda, made about 75 pies a day.

Bumbleberry Enterprises sold stock in the company to a lot of people in Springdale. In 1976 or 1977, the company went bankrupt, so those Springdale residents lost a lot of the money, including the Madsens.

“When that happened, Bumbleberry was not a good name,” Stan Smith said.

Despite the negativity associated with the moniker, Smith said there was no consideration of changing the name.

This historic photo shows Howard Smith, owner of the Bumbleberry Inn, enjoying a piece of the famous pie from which it derived its name, circa 1970s | photo courtesy of Trisha Clark, St. George News

When Stan Smith graduated from Brigham Young University, he said he had it in his mind he’d never return to Springdale. He became a Spanish teacher, first teaching two years at Whitehorse High School on the Navajo Reservation and then at Dixie High School.

In 1987, Stan could see that running the business was taking a toll on his parents, especially his father’s health.

“He was working himself to death,” Stan said of his father at the time.

Stan decided to quit teaching for a while and temporarily help his parents with the business until his father’s health improved. That temporary arrangement became permanent. One of seven children, Stan eventually purchased his brothers’ and sisters’ shares in the business as his parents backed away little by little over the years and he took charge.

“I’m the only one who didn’t know how to leave,” he said.

Stan’s mother died in 2000 and his father died 13 years later. After his father died, he asked if his children wanted to stay in the business, otherwise, he’d sell it. Three out of four of his children said they wanted to stick with the business. Like him, staying with the business was not originally in his children’s plans, but they eventually liked what it had to offer and kept with it.

His daughter, Trisha Clark, runs the gift shop and bakery while his sons Ryan and Tyler, operate the hotel. Stan himself has backed away from most day-to-day operations and is only in charge of the theater. His oldest granddaughter has started helping him with the theater, the fourth generation of the Smith family to be a part of the business.

It’s a true family business.

“We’re all neighbors,” he said of his family. “We work together.”

Today, the family has no intention of selling the business, which holds the distinction of being the longest-running Springdale business operated by the same family. Stan said he gets offers all of the time. His wife said that if someone offers them $100 million then they’ll sell.

“That’s how much we love being here,” Stan Smith said.

The Bumbleberry Inn built a new building after a fire destroyed the old one in November 2020, Jan. 29, 2024 | photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

The pie recipe has stayed the same, but the crust is a little different than the early days.

“You don’t change it,” Smith said of the pie recipe. “There’s a special way you make it.”

The pie recipe is a closely guarded secret that the Smith family will not reveal.

 The original 24-unit building purchased in 1972 is still the heart of the hotel but has been updated. Today, the Inn boasts a total of 71 rooms.

The restaurant, bakery, gift shop and theater have had a true rebirth in the last few years. In November 2000, fire destroyed the original building, which Smith called a hodgepodge that was the result of a series of additions over the years.

Smith said one of the interesting things about the fire was that cleaning it up turned into an “archaeological dig” in which they found artifacts from the original Grandma’s kitchen, everything from spoons to the original tile floor.

The new, state-of-the-art building provides more space and a better flow for the layout of all of the businesses it houses. Some of the bricks from the old building are incorporated into the new and a memory well with pictures of the business over time, even its days as Grandma’s Kitchen, greet visitors as they walk in.

“The past is built into the new building,” Smith said.

Larry McKown, who owned Flanigan’s Inn with his wife, Julie, stands in front of the old Chevron and Zion Rest Motel soon after his family purchased the business, circa late 1970s | Photo courtesy of McKown family, St. George News

Flanigan’s Inn

In its previous life, Flanigan’s Inn was the Zion Rest Motel. 

In 1978, Larry McKown, originally from Minnesota, and his wife, Julie, originally from California, had been living in Salt Lake City and wanted out because they were not fond of the winters there.

The McKowns had an affinity for southern Utah, borne from previous camping trips in the area. They got involved with a group who was going to buy a business in Rockville, but noticed the Zion Rest Motel was also for sale and decided they would just go into business on their own.

They packed everything in an old truck and made the move to Springdale. Julie McKown said they looked like the Clampett family from the TV show “Beverly Hillbillies” when they made the move.

When they purchased the motel, it had only 12 units, some of which were old barracks that the original owners, John and Lena Dratter, moved from the World War II-era Topaz Japanese Internment Camp near Delta, Utah.

The McKowns decided to rename their establishment Flanigan’s Inn in honor of original settlers Tom and David Flanigan, who lived in a dugout still on the property which they affectionately call “the dungeon.” The Watchman, whose shadow hits Flanigan’s Inn, was once known as “Flanigan’s Peak.” 

As the years progressed, the McKowns have updated the place and didn’t just want to solely have a motel so they opened Flanigan’s Restaurant in 1984. It has since been renamed the Spotted Dog Cafe.

The Flanigan’s Inn Resort and Spa has been operated by the McKown family since 1978, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of McKown family, St. George News

Julie McKown, now retired, said she has truly enjoyed running both businesses. She said she liked working with people and meeting tourists from all over the world, many of whom have been extremely friendly. For example, she tells the story of one Belgian couple she met who proceeded to send her postcards from the rest of their trip.

“It was always fascinating,” she said of operating the businesses and meeting so many new people.

Julie’s has a few favorite stories from running the business. When they first bought it, she had people tell her that they were sure glad that she was “taking care of those old people,” due to the name “Zion Rest,” assuming it was a care center. She also told the story of some customers coming in saying they were good friends of Larry and Julie “Flanigan,” in hopes that they would get a discount.

She has enjoyed helping people plan their trips to see Red Rock, regularly debunking the misconception that Moab is right next to Zion, she chuckled. 

Larry and Julie divorced in 2003 and Larry passed away in 2019. Julie is retired but still owns Flanigan’s Villas. The McKowns’ daughter Rebecca runs the business now. She graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in sociology and criminology and was not planning on coming back to Springdale.

“We made her an offer she couldn’t refuse,” Julie McKown said.

Rebecca loves it in Springdale and enjoys running the business. Just like the Smiths, she’s a jack of all trades and does a little bit of everything from waiting tables to cleaning rooms. She has even built greenhouses in Rockville to make the restaurant a farm-to-table operation.

The business now includes 36 rooms, the restaurant and a soon-to-be-remodeled spa.

This historic photo shows the Bit and Spur as it looked when Logan Hebner and his partners purchased it. Notice the Volkswagen Van parked in front in which they drove from Boston, 1980 | Photo courtesy of Logan Hebner, St. George News

The Bit and Spur

Logan Hebner, a native of New York state and a graduate of Vassar College, moved to Alta in the late 1970s and while there, discovered Zion. After he first saw it, he said he knew he was going to be back. 

He and some partners were going to purchase Grafton and turn it into an attraction, but that fell through and they saw a for sale sign on the Bit and Spur.

“It looked like a county jail,” Hebner said.

Its signage advertised beer and billiards. All the parking at the establishment at the time of the purchase was in the back, because, as Hebner explained, no one wanted to advertise that they were at the bar drinking.

Despite its beleaguered appearance, Hebner and his partners were “all in” to purchase the establishment, which they did in 1980. They foresaw filling a dimension that was missing in Springdale — nightlife. 

With a third of what they needed to buy it in cash, they made the deal. They found a Mexican cookbook they liked and used it as the start of the menu for the restaurant they added to the establishment. 

Just as they had hoped, the Bit and Spur became a gathering place, a “watering hole” for an eclectic crew that ranged from “Jack Mormons” to cowboys to doryman (river guides). 

They hosted live music four nights a week including the “Jimson Brothers,” a band of which Hebner was a member. With no hotels across from them and not much of a police presence in the area, there was no closing time, Hebner said.

In 1983, a chef at the Four Seasons in St. George fell in love with the place and came on, completely upping the game in the food department. The chef’s arrival eventually led to the Bit and Spur being written about in the New York Times and Utah Holiday Magazine as the best Mexican food in the state. 

This historic photo shows the Jimson brothers band, which consisted of Logan Hebner (top), Wayne Christiansen (left) and “Airport” Parkinson on drums, circa early 1980s | Photo courtesy of Logan Hebner, St. George News

“All of the sudden, we exploded,” Hebner said, noting that they became much more than a bar with food in the back.

The golden years were from 1981 to 1988, according to Hebner. In addition to live music, they hosted comedy nights, poetry readings and even belly dancers. As Hebner describes it, he felt like people walked into the establishment at the time and thought: “this is the only place in the world where this is happening.”

During those years, there was definitely a regular crowd, mixed with tourists, Hebner said. 

“It was more natural and honest,” he said. “It didn’t feel overrun. People were allowed to be screwy and human.”

Hebner described it as a magical time in his life, but as with all good things, that time came to an end.

After 16 years, Hebner decided to get out of the business, mainly because “a wife and children don’t really mix with a bar and restaurant.”

Joe and Trish Jennings now own the Bit and Spur, which continues to host regular live music.

Since his time with Bit and Spur, Hebner has remained in the area. He worked for Parks Transportation, Inc., the operator of the Zion Shuttle. He has also written a book about the Southern Paiute. He currently serves as Executive Director of Zion Canyon Mesa and plays in a band with his two sons.

“I knew Springdale would pop,” Hebner said. “That was never a question.”

Springdale today

Springdale leaders deal with an increase in Transient Lodging applications, Springdale, Utah, Aug. 22, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

As Hebner explained, Springdale definitely has popped and is much different than when the business owners highlighted in this story got into business.

Other than the significant increase in visitors, one of the biggest changes in the last two decades has been the implementation of the shuttle system, both in the park and town.

At first an anathema, the shuttle has come to characterize the Zion and Springdale experience.

Initially, the worry was that people wouldn’t want to come because of the shuttle, but now people are upset when the shuttle isn’t running, Smith said.

McKown echoed that sentiment. She said that there were a lot of bad feelings at first but perception changed after the first two years and that people started not wanting to come until the shuttle started operating.

Springdale now features on-street paid parking as well as paid parking lots peppered throughout the town.

Today, there are a plethora of accommodations, eateries and guides available, all standing in the shadow of West Temple to the west and the Watchman (aka Flanigan’s Peak) to the east as well as a plethora of other picturesque monoliths that are part of the reason these business owners fell in love with the place in the first place.

The numbers change, but the scenery doesn’t.

For more information about Springdale and its businesses, visit the Springdale town and Zion Canyon Visitor’s Bureau websites.

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About the series “Days”

“Days” is a series of stories about people and places, industry and history in and surrounding the region of southwestern Utah.

“I write stories to help residents of southwestern Utah enjoy the region’s history as much as its scenery,” St. George News contributor Reuben Wadsworth said.

To keep up on Wadsworth’s adventures, “like” his author Facebook page.

Wadsworth has also released a book compilation of many of the historical features written about Washington County as well as a second volume containing stories about other places in Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and Southern Nevada.

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