States Shell Out Big Bucks to Open National Parks

For some, paying out of pocket without the guarantee of federal reimbursement is worth salvaging a lucrative tourism season.

The Grand Canyon will require $651,000 daily in Arizona state funds to remain open to visitors during the government shutdown.
National Journal
Marina Koren
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
Oct. 15, 2013, 7:04 a.m.

Over the week­end, some nature lov­ers got the chance to wander the great fed­er­ally fun­ded out­doors again. Thanks to deals brokered with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, some states dipped in­to their own cash to open their pop­u­lar na­tion­al parks, which closed its doors to vis­it­ors when the gov­ern­ment shut down Oct. 1.

After a push from sev­er­al gov­ernors, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced late last week that it would al­low states to use their own money to pay for Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice op­er­a­tions. Shuttered parks were cost­ing mil­lions of dol­lars of rev­en­ue a day, state of­fi­cials had ar­gued. But keep­ing them open, even for just a week, isn’t cheap. Still, for some states, sal­va­ging a peak tour­ism sea­son is worth it.

The de­cision is cost­ing Utah the pret­ti­est penny, at $1.67 mil­lion to keep five parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyon­lands, and Cap­it­ol Reef, which opened Monday — run­ning for 10 days. Next is Ari­zona, which will pay $651,000 dail­oy to fund park op­er­a­tions at the Grand Canyon, which opened Sat­urday for at least a week. New York will pay $61,600 a day to fin­ance the Statue of Liberty, which opened Sunday, un­til the shut­down ends. The gov­ernor’s of­fice had said more than 10,000 people were turned away each day that the pop­u­lar site was closed.

Fund­ing op­er­a­tions at Rocky Moun­tain Na­tion­al Park, which re­opened on Sat­urday, will cost Col­or­ado $362,700 for 10 days. Park op­er­a­tions at Mount Rush­more Na­tion­al Me­mori­al will cost South Dakota $15,200 a day. The me­mori­al saw 3,000 vis­it­ors when it re­opened Monday, which state of­fi­cials called av­er­age for a snowy Oc­to­ber week­day.

For some West­ern states, however, open­ing their fam­ous na­tion­al parks is not an op­tion. Wyom­ing “can­not use state money to do the work of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” said a spokes­per­son for the gov­ernor. With the threat of de­fault just days away, Cali­for­nia of­fi­cials said us­ing state money to fin­ance park op­er­a­tions is too risky. Nevada of­fi­cials say the state can’t af­ford to pay for parks be­cause they’re fo­cused on budgets for food-stamp pro­grams, un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, and oth­er needs.

A group of House mem­bers, in­clud­ing 14 Re­pub­lic­ans and one Demo­crat, have pro­posed le­gis­la­tion that would re­quire the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to re­im­burse states who opt to use their own money to run na­tion­al parks dur­ing the shut­down. But with Wash­ing­ton now fo­cused on the debt-ceil­ing dead­line — and Sen­ate Demo­crats’ con­tinu­ing dis­ap­prov­al of oth­er sim­il­ar House bills provid­ing only par­tial fund­ing — the bill has nowhere to go but con­gres­sion­al limbo.

What We're Following See More »
Clapper: ISIS Will Try to Attack U.S. This Year
1 days ago

“Leaders of the Islamic State are determined to strike targets in the United States this year,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a congressional panel today. Clapper added that “al-Qaida, from which the Islamic State spun off, remains an enemy and the U.S. will continue to see cyber threats from China, Russia and North Korea, which also is ramping up its nuclear program.”

CBC PAC to Endorse Clinton This Morning
1 hours ago

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC will formally endorse Hillary Clinton this morning, and “nearly a dozen CBC colleagues will descend on” South Carolina next week in advance of that state’s important primary. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the highest ranking black member of Congress, reversed his earlier position of neutrality, saying he’ll make a decision “later in the week.”