Utah parks to open on state dime
Utah officials are ironing out the final details that would allow them to reopen Canyonlands and Arches national parks, officials said.
The Obama administration agreed Thursday to work with states to allow the reopening of some national parks that were closed by the federal shutdown.
“We’re 99 percent there,” Nate McDonald, spokesman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said Thursday of agreements to allow the state to reopen the five national parks in Utah.
“That is awesome. We would love to see the parks open again,” said Barbara Bowman, manager of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, noting that she hoped Colorado officials would consider taking similar action.
Grand Junction Regional Airport is a hub for visitors planing to visit the national parks in the Moab, Utah, area southwest of Grand Junction.
Colorado officials are working with the Interior Department to reopen Trail Ridge Road leading into Rocky Mountain National Park and flood-devastated Estes Park.
The federal announcement would make it possible for tourism businesses to make the most of the remaining weeks before winter, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement.
Bennet had asked that the federal shutdown requirements be relaxed to allow work to be done on Trail Ridge Road and give Estes Park a much-needed second access road.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who chairs the Senate subcommittee on national parks, supports allowing states to fund operations of the parks within their borders, “but Sen. Udall believes it is unfair to ask cash-strapped states to pay for the tea party’s government shutdown,” spokesman Mike Saccone said.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo, whose district includes Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes national parks, said the best option “would be to reopen the government so states don’t have to foot the bill for Washington’s dysfunction.”
The Grand Junction tourism office has tried to keep visitors in the Grand Valley by offering 10 suggestions of things to see instead of Colorado National Monument, which is closed.
“We got a lot of positive feedback about that,” Bowman said.
October tourism is significant for Utah, generating $100 million for the state’s economy, “and the national parks are the drivers of that,” McDonald said.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park draws more than 3 million visitors per year and generates nearly $200 million in tourism revenue.