SALT LAKE CITY – The Obama administration’s willingness to reopen national parks shuttered by the government shutdown comes with a big caveat: States must foot the bill with money they likely won’t see again.
So far, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona and New York have jumped at the deal. Governors in other states were trying to gauge Friday what would be the bigger economic hit – paying to keep the parks operating or losing the tourist money that flows when the scenic attractions are open.
South Dakota and several corporate donors worked out a deal with the National Park Service to reopen Mount Rushmore beginning Monday. Gov. Dennis Daugaard said it will cost $15,200 a day to pay the federal government to run the landmark in the Black Hills.
He said he wired four days’ worth of the donations on Friday.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will pay $61,600 a day to fully fund Park Service personnel and keep the Statue of Liberty open. Arizona officials said a deal reached Friday will mean visitors should be able to return to Grand Canyon National Park today.
In Utah, federal workers rushed to reopen five national parks for 10 days after the state sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government with the hope of saving its lucrative tourist season.
In Colorado, officials said a deal had been struck for the state to pay $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days to allow tourists to reach Estes Park. The visitors are needed to help the town recover from flooding.
Just over 400 national parks, recreation areas and monuments – including such icons as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite – have been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown.
More than 20,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed, and lawmakers from both parties have complained that the closures have wreaked havoc on communities that depend on tourism.
Officials in some states were not happy about paying to have the parks reopened.
In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer balked at spending about $112,000 a day for a full reopening of the Grand Canyon. She said a partial reopening would be much cheaper while allowing tourists to visit and businesses to benefit.
“The daily cost difference is enormous, especially without assurances that Arizona will be reimbursed,” said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for Brewer.
Interior Department spokesman Blake Androff said Thursday the government had no plans to reimburse states that pay to reopen parks. But members of Congress introduced legislation Friday to refund the money within 90 days.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said his state can’t afford to reopen its parks, as did Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Sandoval said Nevada is already facing critical funding decisions on dozens of programs, including food stamps, unemployment insurance and aid to women, infants and children.
In Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead’s office said the state would not pay to reopen two heavily visited national parks or Devil’s Tower national monument.
“Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government, and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government,” Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.