Utah opening national parks; Montana says no

October 11, 2013

Zion National Park has been closed to tourists since Oct. 1.  (Trent Nelson/AP)

The gates of five national parks and three national monuments will be open to tourists starting Saturday after Utah officials stepped in to provide funding during the federal government shutdown.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a deal Thursday night to send $1.7 million to the U.S. Interior Department, enough to keep the sites — Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments — open for 10 days.

The parks are a major part of Utah’s $7 billion tourist economy. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees on Thursday estimated that more than $3.4 million in visitor spending has been lost in the 10 days since the government shut down on Oct. 1. The shutdown has threatened about 2,400 jobs, including 2,100 not affiliated with the National Park Service.

Herbert also called the state legislature back into session next week to consider further funding if the federal government remains shut down. There’s no guarantee that the federal government will pay Utah back when the government reopens, but Herbert’s office said it was working with the state’s congressional delegation to make that happen.

South Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) have made similar offers to use state funds to reopen national parks in their states.

But Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) said he won’t follow suit. Bullock told the Helena Independent Record that he wanted the full federal government reopened, not just the national parks.

Many lodges in and around Montana’s national parkland are already closed for the fall season. But in southern Utah, Columbus Day weekend is a major tourist draw.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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