Utah Strikes Deal to Immediately Re-open Eight National Park Service Sites

Friday, October 11 2013 16:42   Other NPs
Facing an economic disaster for several of its rural communities, the State of Utah has struck a deal with the Department of the Interior to re-open the state's five national parks, Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with some sites starting to open on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.

Utah agreed to pay the National Park Service up to $1.67 million-$166,572 per day-to re-open the eight national sites in Utah for up to 10 days. If the federal government shutdown ends before then, the state will receive a refund of unused monies.

zionopens"Utah's national parks are the backbone of many rural economies and hard-working Utahns are paying a heavy price for this shutdown," Governor Gary R. Herbert said on Oct. 11, 2013. "I commend Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for being open to Utah's solution, and the world should know Utah is open for business and visitors are welcome."

The park sites, some of the most attended by the public in the West, include Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Natural Bridges National Monument and Zion National Park. No other federal recreational sites were included in the deal between the state and the Department of the Interior.

Utah expects all of the eight park sites to become fully operational by Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. Arches National Park was reported to be open Friday night.

"This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities during this shutdown," said Secretary Sally Jewell in a press release issued from Capitol Reef National Park on Oct. 11, 2013.

As of Friday, Oct. 13, Utah was the only state in the national that had national parks opening. Gov. Herbert's office said there was real urgency to the state's decision.

With colorful autumn leaves and mild temperatures, October is a peak month for tourism in many parts of Utah. October yields about $100 million in tourism-related revenue in the state. The specter of the loss of much of that $100 million, and the ripple effect it would have in Utah's local communities, pushed the state to take action.

In his Oct. 8, 2013, letter to President Obama, Governor Herbert said the shutdown of Utah's national parks, monuments and other federal facilities is "devastating individuals and businesses that rely on these areas for their livelihood."

If the President won't free up federal funds to maintain and operate Utah's national parks and monuments, Governor Herbert asked him to authorize Utah to use state and private funds to re-open them to the public.

"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," the governor continued in the letter.

In his letter, Herbert included emergency declarations from several Utah counties that highlighted the dire economic situation they were facing as result of the shutdown.

On Tuesday, the governor got a call from Jewell and the two had a couple of conversations, with Jewell reportedly saying her department was willing to work out a deal with Utah, or any other state, and Herbert discussing what Utah was willing to do financially.

Negotiations between Utah and the Department of the Interior quickly came together overnight on Oct. 9, and the $1.67 million was wired to the federal government Friday morning.

Utah's initial funding for the agreement will come from existing resources within the Division of State Parks of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Further action may be warranted by the Utah State Legislature in a special session expected for next Wednesday, Oct. 16.

The Governor's Office continues to work closely with legislative leaders to make DNR whole and identify optimal solutions. If the government shutdown continues beyond 10 days, Utah can make additional payments to keep the national parks and monuments open.

"We've been deluged with inquiries," one Utah tourism official said. "People want to know what's happening."

Tourism is very important to the state, representing roughly $7.4billion each year. Roughly 6.6 million visitors come to national park sites in Utah last year.

Word of the Utah re-openings was quickly spreading.

Forever Resorts, concessioner for two of national park destinations put out a press release about the news on Friday night.

"Two of national park concessioner Forever Resorts' destinations -
The Lodge at Bryce Canyon and houseboating operations at Antelope Point Marina on Lake Powell - have reopened thanks to today's action by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert," the release said. "Eight national parks in Utah will be open for the Columbus Day holiday and national parks in as many as five other states might join in this reopening." Those five other states are reported to include Arizona, South Dakota and Colorado.


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