Feds to let states pay to open parks

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Updated: October 10, 2013, 10:57 PM

 

WASHINGTON — Under pressure from governors, the Obama administration said Thursday it will allow some shuttered national parks to reopen — as long as states use their own money to pay for park operations.

Governors in at least four states have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures. All 401 national park units — including such icons as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Zion national parks — 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 park closures have wreaked havoc on nearby communities that depend on tourism.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government will consider offers to use state money to resume park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks or monuments to the states. Jewell called on Congress to act swiftly to end the government shutdown so all parks can reopen.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would accept the federal offer to reopen Utah’s five national parks.

Utah would have to use its own money to staff the parks, and it will cost $50,000 a day to operate just one of them, Zion National Park, said Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom.

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

Costs could run into the millions of dollars, depending on how long the shutdown lasts and how many parks reopen. Congress could authorize reimbursements once the shutdown ends, although it was not clear whether that will happen.

Governors of Arizona, South Dakota and Colorado have made similar requests to reopen some or all of their parks.

A spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the Republican governor is committed to finding a way to reopen the Grand Canyon, one of the state’s most important economic engines

“It’s not ideal, but if there’s something we can do to help reopen it, Gov. Brewer has been committed to trying to find that way,” said spokesman Andrew Wilder.

Brewer and state legislative leaders have said they would make state funding available, but “the state cannot pay the federal government’s bills indefinitely,” Wilder said. Businesses outside the Grand Canyon have pledged $400,000.

October is a peak month for tourism in Arizona and other parts of the West.

In South Dakota, a spokesman said Gov. Dennis Daugaard is considering the government’s offer, but wants to see how much it would cost. Daugaard, a Republican, “appreciates the federal government’s willingness to evaluate other options,” said Dusty Johnson, Daugaard’s chief of staff. “When we get the numbers, he’ll consider it more fully.”

Herbert, also a Republican, said in a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama that the shutdown of national parks has been “devastating” to individuals and businesses that rely on park operations for their livelihood. Utah is home to five national parks, including Zion, Bryce and Arches, which attract visitors from around the world.