States Offer Payment to Keep Parks Open Amid Shutdown

Arizona and Utah are taking measures to keep their iconic national parks open in the event of a federal government shutdown that could threaten access to Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Utah’s Zion Valley. Besides preserving tourism in these areas, the economic impact of the national parks is a major factor for the states. Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs and Utah Governor Spencer Cox have decided to use state funds to keep Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands national parks operating. The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association highlights that investing $1 in the National Park Service generates over $15 in economic activity annually. A shutdown could result in nearly 1 million visitors being turned away from the national parks, causing gateway communities to lose up to $70 million. Arizona and Utah expect to be reimbursed for their expenses, similar to how federal employees receive back pay during a shutdown. Arizona plans to use funds from the state lottery to keep the Grand Canyon park open. During the previous shutdown in 2018, Utah paid around $7,500 per day to keep Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches running. To support operations at Zion, the nonprofit Zion Forever Project provided $16,000 to cover a skeleton crew, maintain facilities, and keep the visitor center open. However, it is important to note that maintaining parks during a shutdown without adequate staff and resources can lead to various issues, such as overflowing trash, vandalism, and environmental damage. Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming has urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to use previously collected fees to keep the parks open. However, the Government Accountability Office has deemed this approach illegal. Despite this, the Interior Department and the National Park Service have not released a contingency plan for a potential shutdown. Arizona previously spent approximately $64,000 per week during the 35-day shutdown in 2018-2019 to cover essential services at the Grand Canyon park. Permits for backcountry hikes and rafting on the Colorado River were still valid, but no new permits were issued during that time. National park employees who were not furloughed had to work without pay. Notably, the parks’ emergency services teams, responsible for visitor safety, would be expected to work during a shutdown. Joëlle Baird, a public affairs specialist at Grand Canyon National Park, stated that state funding helped maintain normal operations during the previous shutdown. Regarding funding, John Garder from the National Parks Conservation Association argues that it is ultimately Congress’ responsibility to keep the parks funded and open, although states have a stake in their economic benefits. The shutdown could impact over 400 national park sites across the U.S., including territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa. Governors from other states with national parks, such as South Dakota and Colorado, are exploring options to ensure continued operations and protect resources. Some governors, like those from Washington, Montana, and California, have not indicated plans to allocate additional funding or staff to national parks during a shutdown due to budget constraints or lack of jurisdiction.

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