Utah’s money to keep national parks open during the government shutdown will stop soon

Posted at 4:26 PM, Dec 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-27 20:08:59-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The state's funding to keep three national parks open during the federal government shutdown will end on New Year's Eve.

Utah State Treasurer David Damschen told FOX 13 the state is spending about $10,000 a day to keep visitor's centers and custodial services going at Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

"There’s an agreement struck that’s supposed to fund these minimal services through the end of the year. Beyond that, I do not know. Let’s hope for a quick resolution," he said.

The Utah Office of Tourism said it would evaluate the cost and benefit to keep funding going if the shutdown goes into 2019. Damschen said the state can easily afford what it's spending and he believed it was a benefit to local communities who depend on tourism dollars from the national parks.

"Can we? Absolutely yes. Should we? That’s not my call, but I’m supportive of the decisions made thus far," he said.

In Springdale, visitors were still getting off tour buses and visiting Zion National Park.

"We didn’t pay an entrance fee!" Abbey Frank of Philadelphia remarked to FOX 13 as she and her family visited the park.

"The parks themselves have been absolutely beautiful!" said Marc Israel. "It’s nice to be able to come out and we’re grateful the state has kept them open."

Israel said they were told by a park employee that rangers were unable to go on trails to make sure everything is OK.

"There’s no rescue efforts," Frank added. "Not that we’re the real daredevil types but it would be nice to know we’d get some help if we need. But that’s not available."

The Utah Office of Tourism reported that Springdale was seeing visitors similar to what it had last year, when the government was not closed -- a sign the shutdown isn't harming the local economy. Numbers of economic impact to Moab and areas surrounding Bryce Canyon would not likely be available for some time.

The $10,000 in taxpayer dollars to fund the three parks is significantly less than million dollars Utah spent during the last major shutdown, but so is the level of service. This time, Utah is keeping skeletal staff levels.

Governor Gary Herbert has grumbled that the state was never reimbursed for money spent during the last shutdown. Damschen said Utah likely will never see that money again.

"There’s a federal government policy that precludes them from giving the money back," he said.

Asked if Utah taxpayers were eating the money, Damschen interjected: "But happily so, to take care of our visitors I would say."