SALT LAKE CITY — "Within days," National Park Service personnel will address "burdens born by local communities," such as cleaning restrooms, garbage collection and road maintenance at larger national parks in Utah, Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt announced Sunday.
In a letter following requests by members of Utah's congressional delegation that the federal government "take emergency measures to resume operations," Bernhardt wrote that the Office of Management and Budget had agreed to a modified plan that meets the Interior Department's "dual responsibilities of conserving park resources and providing for the enjoyment of the American people."
Bernhardt's directive allows for "the use of recreation fee funds, where available, to clean up and maintain restrooms and sanitation, trash collection, road maintenance, which includes plowing, campground operations and emergency operations, and staff entrance gates as necessary to provide critical safety information."
Just before Christmas, money ran out for a number of federal agencies when Congress and President Donald Trump hit an impasse over a temporary funding measure because it did not contain funds for the president's border wall.
Since then, the state has spent $55,000 to help Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks open through the end of the year by paying for minimal staffing.
Additional state dollars have been spent on cleaning restrooms at Zion, along with money from St. George, Washington County and the nonprofit Zion Forever Project. Similar efforts are underway at Bryce Canyon. The effort has been supported by volunteers.
Bernhardt described efforts of Utahns to keep their national parks operating as "amazing."
In response to the Department of Interior's actions, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in a statement, said:
“I am immensely grateful to the administration for the decision to restore services at our national parks in the midst of this shutdown. Oftentimes, grandstanding and theater can distract us from the important governmental task of providing safety and security. This decision will enhance safety and add protections to all those who choose to recreate in Utah’s parks."6 comments on this story
Bishop signed the letter as the top Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources. Republican Reps. Chris Stewart and Rep. John Curtis also signed the letter.
In a prepared statement, Stewart said, "I am grateful for the quick response to our letter and the extraordinary steps the department is taking to ensure our Utah parks are protected and open for visitors."
Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, sent a similar letter to Bernhardt that said he joined in asking for an alternative approach to keeping the parks open.