By ANITA SNOW (Associated Press)
PHOENIX — Arizona and Utah will keep their iconic national parks open if a federal government shutdown threatens access to Arizona’s orange-striped Grand Canyon and the steep red cliffs of Utah’s Zion Valley.
More importantly for state budgets, visitors can continue to spend their money near parks.
A cut could occur on Sunday. The economic impact of national parks is so great that the Democratic governor of Arizona and the Republican governor of Utah decided to invest public funds to keep the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches national parks open , Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands.
For Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, it’s a simple matter of economics.
The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit organization, says that every dollar invested in the National Park Service each year supports more than $15 in economic activity.
The association says each day of closure could mean national parks would collectively lose nearly a million visitors and gateway communities would lose up to $70 million.
Hobbs and Cox say their states will pay to keep these parks operating at a basic level, protecting tourism-dependent communities.
“We expect to be reimbursed, just as federal employees receive back pay in the event of a shutdown, and we have communicated that to the Department of the Interior,” Cox said this week.
Hobbs said Arizona Lottery funds will help keep the Grand Canyon park open.
Utah paid about $7,500 per day during the latter part of December 2018 to keep Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches operating during the shutdown. The nonprofit Zion Forever Project committed $16,000 to pay a skeleton crew and keep Zion’s restrooms and visitor center open, which continues to attract several thousand visitors each day.
Arizona state funds won’t cover all normal operating costs during a closure, but they will still allow visitors to visit, said Joelle Baird, public affairs specialist for Grand Canyon National Park.
The National Park Conservation Association noted that keeping parks open during a closure without sufficient staffing or other resources can be disastrous.
“We have witnessed unnecessary and avoidable damage, including overflows of trash and human waste, vandalism, looting and illegal use of off-road vehicles,” the organization said of some sites during of the 2018-2019 closure.
Conditions in Joshua Tree National Park have been described as particularly bad, with overflowing trash and portable toilets, unsupervised visitors leaving the road and knocking over countless numbers of distinctive plants.
Arizona paid about $64,000 per week during the shutdown that lasted 35 days from late 2018 to early 2019 to cover toilet cleaning, trash removal and snow removal at the Grand Canyon. People with permits to hike the backcountry or raft the Colorado River could still go, but no new permits were issued during this period.
National park employees who were not unemployed had to work without pay, with their lost wages reimbursed after a budget resolution was reached. Among those expected to work during another potential shutdown are members of Grand Canyon National Park’s emergency services, which have teams trained in medical services, search and rescue, and firefighting. fires.
Joëlle Baird, the park’s public affairs specialist, said funding from the state of Arizona “kept almost everything operating as usual” during the shutdown five years ago.
“Hotels, restaurants, almost everything was open,” she said.
John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said funding parks is a federal responsibility that states should not have to shoulder.
“We understand states’ interest in reopening 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’s Congress’s responsibility to keep them funded and open.”
The association said the closure could affect more than 400 locations 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 the Olympic national parks, Gov. Jay Inslee has no plans to provide more funding or staffing to national parks in the event of a shutdown.
Inslee’s office said much of the governor’s discretionary spending was needed this year for cleanup and recovery from the wildfires in Spokane County.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office has not said whether the state will spend money to keep Glacier or Yellowstone national parks open. But his team said the Republican governor’s budget team was working with state agencies “to prepare for a possible shutdown in the event that Congress fails to get its act together and keep the federal government running for the American people “.
Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, but three of the five entrances are in Montana.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon is awaiting more information from the Interior Department and the White House to better understand the state’s options, spokesman Michael Pearlman said.
“The governor has also been in contact with the superintendents of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks,” Pearlman said, adding that Gordon, a Republican, acknowledges that closing the parks “could have significant economic impacts on families in the Wyoming who live and work in our front door. communities. »
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said this week that it does not plan to keep national parks open if the federal government shuts down, saying the parks are not under state jurisdiction. The Democratic governor and state lawmakers have had to make tough budget decisions this year, with the state facing a nearly $32 billion deficit after several years of budget surpluses.
AP editors Ed Komenda in Olympia, Washington; Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Mont.; Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont.; and Tran Nguyen in Sacramento contributed to this report.