Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Michelle L. Price
SALT LAKE CITY – The Obama administration’s willingness to reopen national parks shuttered by the government shutdown came with a big caveat: States must foot the bill with money they likely won’t see again.
Visitors to Zion National Park take in the sights after the park opened on a limited basis Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 near Springdale, Utah. Earlier Thursday, the Obama administration said it would allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks after a handful of governors made the request. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he reached an agreement to pay $166,000 a day to the Interior Department to open Utah’s five national parks, while Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says she’d consider paying for a partial reopening of Grand Canyon National Park.
AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Trent Nelson
Hundreds of tourists flock to Grand Canyon Airport to take helicopter and plane tours as the only way they could see the Grand Canyon as the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park remains closed to visitors due to the continued federal government shutdown on Friday Oct. 11, 2013, in Tusayan, Ariz.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
So far, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona and New York have jumped at the deal. Governors in other states were trying to gauge Friday what would be the bigger economic hit – paying to keep the parks operating or losing the tourist money that flows when the scenic attractions are open.
South Dakota and several corporate donors worked out a deal with the National Park Service to reopen Mount Rushmore beginning Monday. Gov. Dennis Daugaard said it will cost $15,200 a day to pay the federal government to run the landmark in the Black Hills.
He said he wired four days’ worth of the donations on Friday.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will pay $61,600 a day to fully fund Park Service personnel and keep the Statue of Liberty open. Arizona officials said a deal reached Friday will mean visitors should be able to return to Grand Canyon National Park on Saturday.
In Utah, federal workers rushed to reopen five national parks for 10 days after the state sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government with the hope of saving its lucrative tourist season.
Zion National Park superintendent Jock Whitworth said staff members began opening gates and removing barriers and expected to have the park fully operational Saturday.
“This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Utah during this shutdown,” Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.
It was welcome news for beleaguered shop owners in the small town of Springdale adjacent to Zion. Hotels have been vacant and rental and retail 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. “A lot of businesses have suffered severely because of the government. I just hope it does stay open through autumn.”
In Colorado, officials said a deal had been struck for the state to pay $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days to allow tourists to reach Estes Park. The visitors are needed to help the town recover from flooding.
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.
In the end, Arizona agreed to pay the Park Service $651,000 to keep the Grand Canyon open for seven days. The $93,000 a day is less than the $112,000 the federal government had said was needed to fund park operations each day.
In additional to state money, cash provided by the town of Tusayan, just outside the South Rim entrance, and private business would also be included in the funding.
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.
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