Utah’s national parks are now open.
Gov. Gary Herbert wired money late Thursday, Oct. 10 from state taxpayers to open Utah’s five national parks, Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Natural Bridges National Monument and the road into Arches National Park opened Friday. The visitor centers at Arches and Canyonlands national parks opened Saturday morning.
“We were kind of scrambling to get staff back on board,” said Paul Henderson, assistant superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Federal workers were not allowed to use their government emails during the shutdown, he said, so supervisors spent Thursday night and Friday morning tracking down workers on personal emails and cellphone.
About 8,500 people visited Arches and 4,500 went to Canyonlands over the Columbus Day weekend, Henderson said.
The reopenings of the parks were an immediate boost to shops, restaurants and hotels in Moab.
People began calling Friday morning to the Red Stone Inn in Moab to ask if it was true that nearby Arches and Canyonlands were open, said general manager Monica Tibbetts. The line into the main gate at Arches stretched a mile long Friday night, she said, and her inn was full Friday and Saturday.
“It was awesome. It was really a good feeling,” Tibbetts said. “I can’t tell you the number of people who changed their vacations and came back.”
There was full occupancy as well at the Red Cliffs Lodge on State Route 128, said general manager Sandy Bastian.
“Obviously, our guests are very happy that the parks are open,” Bastian said. “Especially the international traveler that plans a year out. It was a huge disappointment to come to America, and Utah, and find the national parks closed.”
All 401 national park units had been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees had been furloughed, and lawmakers from both parties have complained that park closures have wreaked havoc on nearby communities that depend on tourism.
Herbert inked a deal with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that provided a little over $166,000 a day to fund the parks.
“This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Utah during this shutdown,” Jewell said.
Herbert said that will keep them open for 10 days, and the state can buy extra days as needed.
Jewell made it clear to the governor she cannot obligate the federal government for reimbursement to the Utah.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., introduced legislation that would reimburse states for the costs of reopening and operating the parks within 90 days. Utah’s four U.S. representatives — Democrat Jim Matheson and Republicans Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop — all signed on as co-sponsors.
Utah was the first state to reopen national parks on the state’s dime. Now Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona and New York have jumped at the deal.
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.
Colorado officials said a deal had been struck for the state to pay $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York will pay $61,600 a day to keep the Statue of Liberty open.
Arizona 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.
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.
Herbert called on President Barack Obama to let Utah operate the state’s five national parks in a letter Tuesday, Oct. 8 by literally asking for the keys to open gates at the national parks.
“It is within the power and authority of the Executive Branch to allow the national parks and monuments to be reopened. We have a solution in place. We just need, literally, the keys to the gates. I cannot overstate that time is of the essence,” Herbert wrote.
However, Jewell said the government will consider offers to pay for park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks to the states.
Herbert said that the shutdown of national parks has been “devastating” to individuals and businesses that rely on visitation to national parks.
He estimated the economic impact of the government shutdown on Utah at about $100 million.
Figures compiled by a coalition of retired park service workers indicated that some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the Utah parks and that the surrounding areas are losing $76 million in visitor spending per day.
The park service said it was losing $450,000 per day in revenue from entrance fees and other in-park expenditures, such as campground fees and boat rentals.
Ashley Korenblat, the owner of Western Spirit Cycling, thanked Herbert and Jewell for coming up with “a practical solution” to open Utah’s national parks while on NBC News the morning of Friday, Oct. 11.
“However, we need the whole public land system re-opened, including the U.S. Forest Service and BLM. All Americans own these lands, and even if you aren’t planning to come see them, they belong to you and need attention,” Korenblat said.
Korenblat is a member of the Utah Outdoor Business Network (UOBN), which recently sent a letter signed by 75 businesses urging Congress to pass a budget and reopen federally managed public lands in Utah.
“We’ll now focus our attention on trying to get BLM resources and operations opened back up to the public if it appears this impasse will continue,” said Grand County councilman Lynn Jackson.
On Utah’s Bureau of Land Management lands, approximately 60 BLM recreation sites closed, including campgrounds in the Moab area, Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River, Desolation Canyon on the Green River, and the San Juan River. The BLM Utah has furloughed 744 of its 750 employees.
“I also suggest our counties and states should develop contingency plans for assuring these public resources don’t shut down the next time Washington decides to put our nation in a tantrum induced gridlock,” Jackson said.
The Grand County Council held an emergency meeting Tuesday, Oct. 8 to discuss the impact of the national park and federal lands closure.
According to the proclamation signed by council chair Gene Ciarus, over 75 percent of the land within Grand County is managed by the federal government. It also stated that 2.5 million visitors travel to Moab to enjoy federally managed lands and that 76 percent of the county’s economy is dependent upon tourism.
Grand County estimated over $2.6 million in lost revenue between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8 in commercial business alone and a continued loss in revenue of $380,000 per day.
Marian DeLay, the director of the Grand County Travel Council said that more than 90,000 visitors go to Arches National Park in October alone.
Jackson stated that BLM would have only essential employees available during the closure to maintain public safety.
However, Sheriff Steve White, pointed out that the Grand County Sheriff Office, and Grand County Search and Rescue, which is managed by the sheriff’s office, has and continues to provide for public safety on BLM managed land.
“We are the ones doing the rescues; we are the ones providing the law enforcement,” White said.