Thursday's promise from the White House to sign a stopgap money bill means national parks visitors probably won't be disappointed this weekend the way they were over the Columbus Day holiday.
Two weeks ago, thousands of tourists were turned away from some of the nation's most popular federally funded attractions while Congress and the Bush administration squabbled over the federal budget.When the deadline arrived, automatic spending cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudmann balanced budget law kicked in, and non-essential governmental services - which included national parks, recreation areas and monuments - were shut down.
It could happen again.
The stopgap measure, which President George Bush has tied to Congress's progress on its deficit-reduction bill, hasn't been signed. And even if it is, it would only assure that the government would be in business through Wednesday.
Great Basin area national parks and recreation area representatives, contacted Thursday afternoon, were unanimous in their hope that there would be no need to close the parks again. But if the president and Congress can't reach a budget accord, federal recreation sites in the region will handle the shutdown in the following ways:
- Bryce Canyon. Superintendent Bob Reynolds said most of Bryce Canyon's public facilities have already closed for the winter. A federal shutdown would mean the visitors center would be closed, as would the park's entrance station. Roads or facilities that can be closed with gates, will be. The one campground still open will be officially closed, but there is no gate to block the entrance. Back-country permits will not be issued. People can walk the trails, but there won't be any rangers to guide them. Because hunting season has begun, a law enforcement ranger on will be on duty, patrolling for poachers. One restroom will be open.
- Arches and Canyonlands. Acting Superintendent Gail Menard said all visitors centers and contact centers in both parks will close at noon Saturday. People in developed campgrounds will be able to stay the night but the campgrounds will be closed and the gates locked by Sunday noon. Overnight trips that start prior to Saturday noon will be allowed to continue, but no more will be allowed after that. Ranger and fee collection services will be suspended. No one will be allowed in the park after Sunday noon, when employees will sweep both parks of visitors. No restrooms will be open.
- Capitol Reef. Superintendent Bill Pierce said as of Saturday, the visitors center and Fruita campground will be closed, but people already in the campground will not be asked to leave. Gates across the roads leading to two scenic routes will be closed, but the highway through the park will be open. No fees will be collected. Some emergency personnel will be on duty. A restroom will be available.
- Zion. Superintendent Harold Grafe said the visitors center and its parking area will be closed. No one will collect fees at the park's entrance stations. For public safety reasons, the tunnel escort system will continue at the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. The Zion Lodge will be open, and restrooms will be available there, but the tour road above Zion Lodge will be closed. Any new campers arriving will be told the campgrounds are closed, and any people already camping will have to leave no later than Monday morning unless Congress alleviates the funding situation. Some trails will be available for hiking, but because rangers will not be patrolling, people who choose to use the trails will do so at their own risk. The trail to the Narrows will be closed. The highway through the park will remain open.
- Grand Canyon. Parks spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said the plan is to try to keep rim campgrounds open at least until Monday, but policy on inner canyon campgrounds is still up in the air. Park entrance stations will not be open, which means people can get in but won't have to pay. The main visitors center on the South Rim will be open, but the only staffers on duty will be people at the front desk. No programs will be offered. None of the privately operated concession facilities will be affected - lodges and restaurants still be open, and concessionaire services such as mule rides and bus tours will still be running. Essential personnel - that is, law enforcement - will be working to protect visitors and and the park. Restrooms will be open.
- Mesa Verde and Hovenweep. Superintendent Robert Heyder said the park and monument would be considered closed as of midnight Friday. Visitors can drive to the park lodge, which is scheduled to be open through noon Monday. The campground, which is operated by a concessionaire, will be open through Monday at noon. No one will be allowed to visit the Mesa Verde ruins. After Monday, everything will be closed for the winter.
- Great Basin. Superintendent Al Hendricks said the main entrance gate would be closed if the federal shutdown occurs, so no park facilities will be available. People in campgrounds will be asked to leave Saturday morning, and park rangers will sweep the area for visitors. Rangers will be available for emergencies and to patrol for poachers.
National Monuments and Recreation Areas
- Cedar Breaks. Already closed for the winter, but the road through the park will remain open.
- Dinosaur. Acting Superintendent David Whitman said the visitors centers will be closed. The Split Mountain campground will be closed and the gate locked. Roads to picnic areas will be closed, but all other park roads and trails will remain open. Essential law enforcement personnel will be on duty. No restrooms will be available.
- Flaming Gorge. District Ranger Steve Sams said carryover funding is available from last year for the recreation area, so the impact of a federal shutdown can be kept to a minimum over the weekend. Rangers will patrol because it is hunting season. A more thorough area shutdown could begin Monday. If that happens, campgrounds, offices and visitors centers will be closed. No restrooms will be available if the area is closed.
- Glen Canyon. Spokeswoman Karen Whitney said all park offices, campgrounds and the Carl Hayden visitors center at the dam will close. No restrooms will be open. Only emergency service personnel will be available. Campground gates will be locked, and campers already there will be asked to leave by Saturday afternoon. Notices are already up telling campers to pay only by the night. All park roads will stay open, as will lake access, concession services and concession facilities.
- Natural Bridges. Gail Menard, acting superintendent for Canyonlands, said Natural Bridges would have the same policy as nearby national parks - that is, all visitors centers and contact centers will close at noon Saturday. People in developed campgrounds will be able to stay the night but the campgrounds will be closed and the gates locked by Sunday noon. Overnight trips that start before noon Saturday will be allowed to continue, but no more will be allowed after that. Ranger and fee collection services will be suspended. No one will be allowed into the park after Sunday noon, when employees will "sweep" both parks of visitors. No restrooms will be open.
- Timpanogos Cave. Already closed for the winter.
- Golden Spike. Superintendent Bill Herr said the monument's locomotives have already been stored for the winter, and if the federal shutdown occurs, all facilities will be closed. People may still drive through on the county road. No restrooms will be open.