ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona among states to pay to keep national parks open if shutdown occurs

Sep 28, 2023, 6:00 PM

The Grand Canyon National Park entrance is blocked off, in Tusayan, Ariz., Oct. 8, 2013, because of...

The Grand Canyon National Park entrance is blocked off, in Tusayan, Ariz., Oct. 8, 2013, because of a partial government shutdown. Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park and all five national parks in Utah will remain open if the U.S. government shuts down, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox say that the parks are important destinations and local communities depend on dollars from visitors. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona and Utah will keep the iconic national parks in those states open if a shutdown of the federal government threatens access to Arizona’s orange-striped Grand Canyon and the sheer red cliffs of Utah’s Zion Valley.

Most importantly for state budgets, visitors can keep spending their money near the parks.

A cutoff could come Sunday. The economic impact of the national parks is so important that Arizona’s Democratic governor and Utah’s Republican governor have decided to invest state funds in keeping Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks open.

For Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, it’s a simple question of economics.

The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association says that every $1 invested in the National Park Service annually supports more than $15 in economic activity.

The association says that every day of a shutdown could mean national parks collectively losing nearly 1 million visitors, and gateway communities losing as much as $70 million.

Hobbs and Cox say their states will pay to keep those parks operating on a basic level, cushioning tourism-dependent communities.

“We expect to be reimbursed, just as federal employees receive back pay during a shutdown, and we have communicated this to the Department of Interior,” Cox said this week.

Hobbs has said Arizona Lottery funds would help keep the Grand Canyon park open.

Utah paid some $7,500 daily during the last part of December 2018 to keep Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches running during a shutdown back then. The nonprofit Zion Forever Project committed $16,000 to pay a skeleton crew and keep bathrooms and the visitor center open at Zion, which continued drawing several thousand visitors daily.

Arizona state funds won’t cover all normal operating costs during a shutdown, but they will still let people visit, said Joelle Baird, public affairs specialist for Grand Canyon National Park.

The National Park Conservation Association noted that keeping parks open during a shutdown without sufficient staff and other resources can be be disastrous.

“We witnessed unnecessary and avoidable damage, including overflowing trash and human waste, vandalism, looting and illegal use of off-road vehicles,” the organization said about some sites during the 2018-2019 shutdown.

Conditions at Joshua Tree National Park were described as especially bad, with overflowing trash and portable toilets and unsupervised visitors driving off road and toppling incalculable numbers of the distinctive plants.

Arizona paid about $64,000 a week during the shutdown that stretched 35 days from late 2018 to early 2019 to cover restroom cleaning, trash removal and snow plowing at Grand Canyon. People with permits to hike in the backcountry or raft on the Colorado River could still go, but no new permits were issued during that period.

National park employees who were not furloughed had to work without pay, their lost wages repaid after a budget resolution was reached. Those expected to work in another potential shutdown include members of Grand Canyon National Park’s emergency services, which has teams trained in medical services, search and rescue and firefighting.

Joëlle Baird, the park’s public affairs specialist, said Arizona state funding “kept most everything business as usual” during the shutdown five years ago.

“Hotels, restaurants, pretty much everything was open,” she said.

John Garder, Senior Director of Budget & Appropriations for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said funding the parks is a federal responsibility that states shouldn’t have to assume.

“We understand states’ interest in opening our parks when the government shuts down as they are proven economic engines, generating more than $50.3 billion and supporting more than 378,400 jobs annually.” said Garder. “But ultimately, it is Congress’ responsibility to keep them funded and open.”

The association said the shutdown could affect more than 400 sites in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.

In Washington state, home to Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, Gov. Jay Inslee has no plans to provide more funding or staff to national parks if there’s a shutdown.

Inslee’s office said much of the governor’s discretionary spending was needed this year for cleanup and recovery after wildfires in Spokane County.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office didn’t say if the state would spend money to keep Glacier or Yellowstone national parks open. But his staff said the Republican governor’s budget team is working with state agencies “to prepare for a possible shutdown in the event Congress can’t get its act together and keep the federal government up and running for the American people.”

Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming but three of the five entrances are in Montana.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon awaiting more information from the Department of Interior and the White House to better understand the state’s options, said spokesman Michael Pearlman.

“The Governor has also been in contact with the Superintendents of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks,” said Pearlman, adding that Gordon, a Republican, recognizes that park closures “could have significant economic repercussions to Wyoming families that live and work in our gateway communities.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said this week it doesn’t plan to keep national parks open if the federal government shuts down, saying the parks are not within state jurisdiction. The Democratic governor and state lawmakers had to make difficult budgetary decisions this year as the state faced a nearly $32 billion shortfall after several years of budget surpluses.

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Arizona among states to pay to keep national parks open if shutdown occurs