Utah Reopening National Parks, Others Eye Options

By Beacon Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal workers rushed on Friday to reopen five national parks in Utah after the state sent $1.65 million to the U.S. government with the hope of saving its lucrative tourist season during the federal shutdown.

Utah was the first taker of an offer made Thursday by the Obama administration to let states foot the bill for the operation of national parks. A number of other states were expected to follow suit.

In New York, state and federal officials were discussing the possible reopening of the Statue of Liberty, while Arizona officials weighed whether to pay the federal government to reopen Grand Canyon National Park.

In Utah, Zion National Park superintendent Jock Whitworth said staff members began opening gates and removing barriers and expected to have the park fully operational Saturday.

It was welcome news for beleaguered shop owners in the small town of Springdale adjacent to the park. Hotels have been vacant and retail and rental shops have seen sales plummet during the shutdown.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said Jenna Milligan of Zion Outfitters, an outdoor gear rental shop outside the park. “A lot of businesses have suffered severely because of the government. I just hope it does stay open through autumn.”

Just over 400 national parks, recreation areas and monuments — including such icons as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite — have been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed, and lawmakers from both parties have complained that the closures have wreaked havoc on communities that depend on tourism.

Officials in some states were not happy about paying to have the parks reopened.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer balked at spending about $112,000 a day for a full reopening of the Grand Canyon. She said a partial reopening would be much cheaper while allowing tourists to visit and businesses to benefit.

“The daily cost difference is enormous, especially without assurances that Arizona will be reimbursed,” said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for Brewer.

At this time of year, the Grand Canyon draws about 18,000 people a day who pump an estimated $1 million a day into the local economy.

The town of Tusayan, just outside the South Rim entrance, and area businesses have pledged $400,000 to help reopen the canyon, but Wilder said it was unclear if the Interior Department could accept private funds.

Interior Department spokesman Blake Androff said the government does not plan to reimburse states that pay to reopen parks.

In Utah, Herbert estimated the economic impact of the federal government shutdown on his state at $100 million.

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, was considering the government’s offer but wants to see how much it would cost. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was in discussions with Interior Department officials.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said his state can’t afford the cost of park reopenings when it is already facing critical funding decisions on dozens of programs, including food stamps, unemployment insurance and aid to women, infants and children.

In Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead’s office said the state would not pay to reopen two heavily visited national parks or the Devil’s Tower national monument.

“Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government,” Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.
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Ten days after the partial shutdown of the federal government shuttered the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon and other national parks, the Obama administration has offered to let states foot the bill to reopen parks within their borders. Here’s how states are reacting to the offer:

ARIZONA

State officials were negotiating with federal officials over the possible reopening of the Grand Canyon. Gov. Jan Brewer is pressing for a partial, less expensive reopening. Interior Department officials said that is not an option.

COLORADO

Colorado agreed to pay about $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park through Oct. 20 to boost its main gateway town, Estes Park, which was hit hard by flooding last month.

HAWAII

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office said the state is unlikely to reopen national parks because it doesn’t appear it would be reimbursed.

MISSOURI

Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration was working on a proposal that could allow national parks to reopen in Missouri. Nixon said Friday the proposal would specifically include plans to reopen the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park in southern Missouri.

MONTANA

Gov. Steve Bullock said his state won’t pick up the tab to reopen Glacier National Park. Bullock said that it’s long past time for Congress to end the “reckless and job-killing shutdown.”

NEVADA

Gov. Brian Sandoval said his state can’t afford the costs of reopening parks when it is already facing critical funding decisions on food stamps, unemployment insurance and aid to women, infants and children.

NEW YORK

Negotiations were underway on the possible reopening of the Statue of Liberty but no deal had been reached, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Gov. Dennis Daugaard was considering the government’s offer but wanted to see how much it would cost. Daugaard was one of at least four governors who requested the authority to open some or all of their parks.

UTAH

Utah was the first state to jump at the federal government’s offer, with Gov. Gary Herbert signing a deal for a 10-day reopening of the state’s five national parks. State officials wired $1.67 million to the federal government, and National Park Service workers began removing barriers and opening gates.

WASHINGTON

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said the state does not have the money to reopen its popular parks, including Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

WYOMING

Gov. Matt Mead’s office said the state would not pay to reopen two heavily visited national parks or the Devils Tower National Monument. Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said, “Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government.”

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