Utah's national parks starting to open

Published: Friday, Oct. 11 2013 12:10 p.m. MDT

Cloud formations are visible at Bryce Canyon National Park hike on Navajo Loop, Sept. 14, 2007. National Park Service workers were busy Friday preparing to open eight national recreations sites in Utah that were closed the past 11 days due to the federal government shutdown.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — National Park Service workers were busy Friday reopening eight national recreation sites in Utah that were closed for 10 days due to the federal government shutdown.

People clapped as the visitors center at Capitol Reef National Park opened its doors Friday afternoon, said Leah McGinnis, park superintendent.

"We had people waiting outside our barricades when we opened. We had a bus in our parking lot within the first 15 minutes. People were anxious to get here," she said.

About the only thing missing were the signature pies at the Gifford Homestead because there wasn't time to bake.

"We didn't have pies this afternoon," McGinnis said. "We'll have those (Saturday) morning."

Cars also lined up outside Zion National Park, which opened Friday with limited services. Trails that don't require permits and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway were open.

Both visitor centers, Kolob Canyon, the south campground and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel opened Friday afternoon. The park's shuttles and Zion Lodge will open Saturday morning.

"I'm sure they're scrambling like mad to get things working," said Dean Cook, president of the Zion Canyon Visitors Bureau.

Utah reached an agreement with the Department of the Interior late Thursday to fund five national parks, two national monuments and one national recreation area for up to 10 days.

"This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Utah," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah sent the Interior Department $1.67 million Friday morning to set the reopening in motion. The state agreed to pay $167,000 a day in operating costs for up to 10 days. Herbert said he expects the parks to be fully operational Saturday.

In addition to Capitol Reef and Zion, the state will cover operating costs at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands national parks, Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments and Lake Powell.

"The phone has been ringing off the wall ever since last night's or this morning's announcement that they're going to open the park," said Michael Hayworth, who works at the North Lake Service Center at Bullfrog Marina. "We have not gotten any official word."

Hayworth said he doesn't expect the boat ramps to open until the park service gets containment measures back in place for the invasive mussels that attach themselves to watercraft.

"I don't see anything being launched for at least two days," he said.

Aramark, a facilities management company at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, said it's open for business at Lake Powell.

"Our intent is to have a majority of our Lake Powell operations on North Lake (including Defiance House Lodge, Bullfrog Marina and boat rentals) and on South Lake (Lake Powell Resort, Wahweap Marina and boat rentals) up and running later (Friday), with the expectation that all facilities and services will be fully operational and available by Monday," according to company spokesman Dave Freireich.

Lance Syrett, general manager of Ruby's Inn just outside Bryce Canyon, said he's glad to see the hotel's lobby empty because for 10 days people were hanging around with nothing to do.

"We're just staying so happy down here we're going to pass out. That's how great it is," Syrett said Friday. "I'm walking through the hotel right now, and it's basically a ghost town because everybody's inside the park."

In Springdale just outside Zion National Park, Cook was ecstatic about the reopening news.

"Once the euphoria wears off, I think I'll get back to normal," he said.

Cook, general manager of the Best Western Zion Park Inn, said the closure has been tough on businesses in the small town.

"It's been very unnerving and frustrating for a community like ours," he said. "Right now, we're just excited about trying to salvage what we can in the month of October after the bloodletting."

October is traditionally a busy month for Springdale and helps get motels, restaurants and tour companies through the lean winter season.

If the government shutdown remains in place after Oct. 20, Herbert said Utah would consider funding on a day-to-day basis.

"We can keep it open as long as we feel necessary," he said Friday.

Utah won't get back the money it puts up to reopen the recreation sites without an act of Congress.

Members of the state's congressional delegation have initiated legislation for repayment.

"We're going to try. We'll do everything we can," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. "I've assured the governor we would lead that charge, but there's no guarantee with the federal government. All the parties recognize that."

Stewart said it's money well spent even if the state isn't reimbursed. Utah will be more than repaid in the economic activity that's restarted with opening the parks and bringing tourists back, he said.

Herbert, too, said he knows the state might not see that money again. But "we're losing millions of dollars a day when they're closed, so putting out $167,000 a day to return millions into the economy certainly is a good bargain."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said it's clearly the obligation of the federal government to operate the parks, and she wants to see the state get its taxpayers' dollars back.

Stewart said in addition to seeking reimbursement, he'll pursue legislation that would allow the state to immediately fund the national parks and be reimbursed should another federal shutdown occur.

"The reality is we'll probably find ourselves in this position again," he said. "We want to legislatively put a piece in place that brings some certainty to that situation."

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

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