Money & Business

Four States Put Up So Parks Don't Stay Shut Up

By / Oct 15, 2013 (Petrified Forest Ranger/Flickr)

Governors in at least four states have reached deals to reopen their national parks and monuments. But there’s a catch: They have to foot the bill until the federal government is up and running.

Tired of watching their local economies struggle as officials scrambled to provide alternatives to disappointed tourists, political leaders in Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, and Utah agreed to fund the reopening and operation of National Park Service parks attractions shuttered on October 1 due to the partial government shutdown.

Despite rumors of a deal in Congress that could end the two-week impasse, reopening the federal government and avoiding the looming danger of hitting the nation’s debt limit, state officials decided they’d seen enough.

The Associated Press detailed an agreement that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) reached with the Obama administration to allow the state to pay the federal government $651,000, or approximately $93,000 a day, to cover reopening the Grand Canyon National Park for seven days.

South Dakota reportedly worked with several corporate donors to reopen Mount Rushmore on Monday. The price tag: $15,200 per day, Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) told the AP.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has agreed to pay $61,600 a day to reopen the Statue of Liberty to visitors.

And in Utah, five national parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef — reopened over the weekend after the state paid $1.67 million to cover operations for 10 days, hoping to salvage its fall tourist season.

“This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Utah during this shutdown,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement about the decision reported by the AP.

“This is a completely different world,” Zion National Park Public Information Officer Aly Baltrus told St. George News in Utah, referencing last week’s Occupy Zion protest, when a small group of hikers ignored the gates and walked into the park. “It is so nice to be open and let people in.”

The deals to reopen the attractions came after the Obama administration shifted its position last week to let states cover the costs; earlier, the administration had rebuffed various states’ proposals to fund operations.

CVBs on the Front Lines

Faced with the prospect of losing millions in tourism revenue, state officials had been relying largely on local convention and visitors bureaus to inform travelers about the national park closures and to propose alternative activities that would keep them from canceling vacation plans.

In Arizona, tourism officials arranged trips to Lowell Observatory and guided tours of the local Hopi culture. Officials in other states suggested leisure activities, from golf outings to wine tastings. Some offered up visits to state-run parks as an alternative.

“We are really trying to convince visitors not to turn around and go home,” Julie Hadzega, spokeswoman for the Yosemite-Mariposa County Tourism Bureau in California, told The Los Angeles Times, adding, “There’s a lot of stuff to do here.”

Risk vs. Reward

Across the country, the Associated Press reports that more than 20,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed since the shutdown went into effect. Some states have decided that the cost of paying for park operations is preferable to the economic losses that would continue should they remain closed; others decided that paying out of pocket is too expensive.

Governors in Nevada and Washington told the Associated Press that their governments could not afford to pay to reopen parks in those states.

A spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) told the news service simply, “[W]e cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government.”

Corey Murray

Corey Murray is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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