Utah national parks, military workers feels bite of government shutdown
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — No one set foot on Angels Landing or posed for a photo under Delicate Arch on Tuesday, at least not legally anyway.
Those iconic landmarks in Zion National Park and Arches National Park, respectively, were only two of Utah's many scenic wonders that were off limits to visitors as a result of the government shutdown.
"That's a great shame, isn't it, because people have come a long way to see all the marvelous sites of the American national parks," Moira Smith, of England, said outside Zion. "I think it's a shame that they've come a long way, not just from England, to see them and they're not seeing them, so it's not good, is it really?"
Zion expects to turn away 10,000 visitors a day during the government-imposed closure, costing $50,000 in daily revenue. About 200 park workers were furloughed.
"It's pretty devastating," said park spokeswoman Alyssa Baltrus. "It's really hard for foreign visitors. They just don't understand."
Also, schoolchildren won't be able to take field trips to the park to see firsthand the habitats or geology they're studying in the classroom, she said.
The National Parks Conservation Association estimates businesses in tourist communities lose $30 million a day nationwide due to the shutdown.
Ruby's Inn near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park stockpiles September and October dollars to get through the leaner winter months.
"This such an important time for us," said Lance Syrett, general manager. "It's going to kill us if this drags on."
National parks and monuments are among the more visible areas affected by the shutdown that is causing disappointment, anger and uncertainty across the state.
Federal agencies sent thousands of Utahns home from work or told them not come in at all Tuesday. The Governor's Office of Management and Budget estimates about 10,000 of the state's 40,000 federal employees and contractors were furloughed.
"It's almost like we're a punching bag," said Monty Lewis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592, which represents 8,000 workers at Hill Air Force Base. "I've never seen it this bad in the 31 years I've been a federal employee."
The shutdown idled 2,600 union workers, many of whom do jobs that keep the air base running. Workers considered "mission essential" remain on the job, though without pay, Lewis said.
"As you know, the war in Afghanistan is still going on. The planes we're working on go to support the war fighters," he said. "So some of the boys are working, but they're not getting paid."
Those employees would receive checks if and when Congress funds the government, but the ones who were sent home aren't guaranteed anything, Lewis said.
"If you're an aircraft mechanic or electrician that has one or two children and the wife stays home to watch them and one's in diapers and formula, you can't afford to have an IOU for your check," he said.
Lewis doesn't blame either political party for the impasse, but Congress and the White House in general for not working together to come up with a "rational" plan.
"They created it, and they're the only ones that can fix it," he said.
About half of the Utah National Guard's 2,500 full-time workers were furloughed, including helicopter pilots, linguists, budget analysts and service providers based in 30 communities statewide.
The guard also postponed training this weekend for hundreds of part-timers who hone their soldier skills once a month, said Lt. Col. Hank McIntyre.
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