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
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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.

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