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Automatic budget cuts means a loss of $500K for Utah's national parks

Published: Monday, March 4 2013 2:40 p.m. MST

Delicate Arch glows in light from the setting sun as alpenglow lights up the La Sal mountains in the distance Friday, Dec. 31, 2010 at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK — Utah's five national parks are getting ready for their busy spring season, but budget cuts mean changes are on the way.

Because a compromise on $85 billion in spending cuts was not reached Friday, automatic budget cuts are in effect. Utah's national parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon — will feel the effects as time goes on.

"I think these effects will grow over time and they will become more pronounced," said Kate Cannon, the superintendent for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. "This does hurt. What we want to do is take care of our parks and take care of the people who come here. This makes it much harder to do that well."

Roughly $500,000 has to be cut from Arches and Canyonlands. The two parks are managed as a group. Cannon has been planning on and preparing for the cuts for months. One way to soften the impact of the cuts is to not fill open positions. In the past 10 years, the two parks have consolidated and shared staff to help trim budgets.

As time goes on, Cannon said visitors could see fewer rangers giving guided tours, and trail maintenance could become an issue. Though many visitors will not notice, she said having enough rangers to perform effective search and rescue operations could become another issue.

“There could be even fewer employees to patrol roads and rivers,” Cannon said, “and fewer employees to stabilize archeological sites and remove noxious weeds.”

Visitors hope that the cuts won’t mean closures to the park, though.

"As a taxpayer, I paid for it, and I ought to be able to use it, as should every other American citizen," said Ellen Newton from Maine, who was visiting Arches National Park.

“We don’t expect to have to close Arches or Canyonlands,” Cannon said.

Nearby, Moab benefits from the proximity of Arches and Canyonlands. Tourists need a place to eat, sleep and buy souvenirs.

Courtney Miller works at the Moab Adventure Center. She said a lot of businesses benefit from the parks, but they don't think the federal budget cuts will impact tourists too much.

"The Jeeping, the mountain biking, the river rafting — there's enough to draw people to Moab outside of just going to the parks," Miller said. “But I do think it’s ridiculous the government can’t quite get it all together.”

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com, Twitter: ksl_alexcabrero

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