Thousands of sightseers were disappointed Saturday when they were turned away from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, popular East Coast national parks ordered to shut down while the president and Congress haggle over the federal budget.
Maybe those New York tourists should have come to Utah for the holiday weekend.Utah parks, like their New York Harbor counterparts, are officially closed. But that doesn't mean the parks are off-limits, said Gene Siler, an employee of Ruby's Inn outside Bryce National Park.
In fact, in Utah the parks in a sense are more "open" than usual.
"There's no one to take admission," Siler said.
"The weather is beautiful down here. And the private concessionaires inside and outside the park are going full blast. The restrooms and visitors centers might be closed, but that's not the end of the world," he said. "If the public gets the idea that the parks are closed, they won't come. And all the surrounding communities depend on tourist business."
All "non-essential" employees - and National Park Service workers fall under this heading - were sent home Saturday while the Bush administration and the Congress tried to resolve the current federal budget impasse.
Essential federal employees still at work in Utah Saturday included air traffic controllers and employees of Hill Air Force Base, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Veterans Administration Hospital.
However, the fate of Hill's civilian workers after the Columbus Day holiday on Monday seemed somewhat up in the air. All Hill personnel, military and civilian, should report to work as usual on Tuesday; what is less certain is whether they will all be employed at day's end.
"We have not received any word from the Air Force," said Hill's Sylvia LeMons-Liddle. "Until we do, we're going about business as usual. We plan to return to work Tuesday morning."
Military activity supporting Operation Desert Shield is considered of vital national interest and therefore exempt from the order shutting down most government functions. As far as Hill is concerned in the absence of other directions so far, all of its employees fall under that exemption.
But Hill hasn't received official word one way or the other.
The situation is uncertain enough that it prompted William Shoell, president of the Hill workers union, Local 1592, to fly to Washington, D.C., to confer on the crisis.
In a Deseret News interview from his lodging near Arlington, Va., Shoell said everybody supporting Desert Shield would be exempt from the layoffs. But other Air Force workers may not be.
He has heard news reports concerning bases in the Washington area that everybody should go to work as usual at the bases Tuesday, "for at least three hours. . . ."
Meanwhile, the fact that Utah's National Park Service employees are temporarily out of work caused only minor inconveniences for tourists who wanted to ask questions at a visitors center or go on a guided tour, said Bryce National Park Superintendent Bob Reynolds.
Reynolds said campgrounds also are closed. But because there are no physical barriers, no one who wants to camp will be kept out, nor will they be issued tickets if they use the closed grounds, he said.
Bryce will keep a crew working to respond to any emergencies during the shutdown. And, Reynolds said, restrooms will be kept open.
The situation is similar at Zion National Park, said Randall Richards, assistant manager of the Bit and Spur restaurant and bar in Spring-dale.