National Parks May Reopen With State Money

Image: National Parks May Reopen With State Money

Friday, 11 Oct 2013 11:07 AM

By Courtney Coren

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Some states are planning to reopen closed national parks using their own funds after consulting with Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Utah is the only state to reach an agreement so far that will open five national parks within its borders and three other federally-owned locations, CNN also reported. But Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming may not be far behind in reaching an agreement, following talks with Jewell. More states may follow as well, if the federal government shutdown continues and they are willing to fund the opening of the parks out of their own funds.

"Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Jewell will consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to reopen national parks in their states," Jewell's spokesman said.

According to CNN, Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday that he had reached an agreement with Jewell that will allow Zion National Park and others to reopen, as soon as the state transfers an estimated $1.67 million to the Interior Department to cover the initial costs.

"Utah agrees to pay the National Park Service up to $1.67 million — $166,572 per day — to re-open eight national sites in Utah for up to 10 days," an Interior Department official explained in a statement. "If the federal government shutdown ends before then, the State will receive a refund of unused monies."

The state said it would also continue to pay to keep the parks open even if the shutdown continues past the 10-day mark, and for good reason. The state is losing money every day the parks stay closed. Visitors to Utah's national parks usually bring in around $100 million in the month of October, which is a popular time to visit the state due to the moderate fall temperatures.

The nation's 401 national parks were closed when the government shutdown began Oct. 1. Utah is one of five states that expressed an interest in using state funds to keep the parks in their states open. But some are insisting that state employees be used to staff the sites during the shutdown and not federal employees.

According to USA Today, Gov. Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota had previously offered to pay for a partial reopening of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, but he wanted to use state employees. However, Jewell told Daugaard, a Republican, that the monument would need to be fully opened and federal employees must be used.

Some Republican lawmakers in Congress are also taking issue with the requirement the parks must be fully reopened if the states are willing to foot the bill for now.

"The requirement to 'fully fund National Park Service personnel' is an arbitrary and costly burden forced on these governors to, once again, maximize the political pain of the National Park Service's own decisions," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, according to USA Today.

GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona also weighed in. He said while he appreciates the offer by the Obama administration to allow the states to help reopen the parks, "the Park Service must be willing to at least agree to a partial reopening similar to the agreement reached with the state of Arizona during the 1995 government shutdown."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had offered to pay to have Grand Canyon National Park reopened last week, but park superintendent Dave Uberuaga said at that time he was not able to accept the offer.

But Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder told the Journal that the governor's talk with Jewell this week "was productive," even though "it certainly left us with many unanswered questions."

"Does it have to be a full reopening? What does that cost? Can private money be used?" Wilder added.

The park closures have spurred some Americans to enter closed parks in civil disobedience, in some cases leading to citations for those individuals.

Related Stories:
  • Shutdown Impact: Some National Parks Could Reopen
  • Republicans, Communities Demand Answers on Park Closures

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