Utah is using state funds to keep three of its most popular national parks open during the government shutdown, the Salt Lake Tribune is reporting.
As Donald Trump and Congress continue to battle over a lack of funding for Trump’s proposed border wall, the federal government is without a working budget, which means that it is, in essence, shut down. Among other things, that means that federal employees are furloughed until further notice. One consequence is that national parks have no one to staff them; to drive the buses that carry visitors to and fro, to maintain the fences and other equipment, to staff the gift shops, or to even keep the bathrooms clean.
In Utah, that won’t do. The Mighty Five Utah national parks, as they’re called in the Beehive State (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion), bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists, even this time of year. Those tourist dollars bring in tax revenue, with money spent at convenience stores, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops. In some Utah communities, tourist revenue keeps the towns afloat.
To keep the money flowing, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Office of Tourism Managing Director Vicki Varela arranged for an $80,000 grant, to be paid from the state’s General Fund, to keep three of the Mighty Five (Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion) open, at least for a while.
In a news release, Herbert said that this transfer of funds is necessary to keep Utah hospitable to visitors.
“We take great pride in our hospitality and want visitors who come to Utah’s Mighty Five national parks during the Christmas holiday to have a safe, clean and enjoyable experience. Many travelers have planned their visit for months in advance and have traveled from all over the world to be here. We want them to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors.”
That’s not to say that the funds will keep the parks fully-staffed; in fact, they’re basically a stop-gap measure to provide a skeleton crew to keep only the most essential operations going in the parks. Specifically, shuttle buses to alleviate traffic congestion, and a custodial crew to keep the restrooms clean. All other park programs are canceled until further notice.
The money was directed to the three Utah national parks that have the highest visitor turnout this time of year. The two other national parks in the state – Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks – have low visitor turnout in the winter, and won’t be receiving state funds.