Feds to let states pay to open parks

5:47 PM, Oct 10, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said Thursday it will allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks that have been closed because of the government shutdown.

Governors in at least four states, including Colorado, have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures.

Governor Hickenlooper is proposing that the park service allow Colorado to maintain and patrol Trail Ridge Road, which runs through the national park, connecting Estes Park and Grand Lake.

The Colorado Department of Transportation would plow and maintain the road, while Colorado State Patrol would be tasked with sending troopers to keep it safe for use.

The governor's office released the following statement Thursday:

"The Department of Interior today announced states could consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest in re-opening national parks in their states. We have expressed interest in finding a way to keep Trail Ridge Road open in Rocky Mountain National Park until the road closes for the winter. Trail Ridge Road is an important access point for Estes Park and allows two points of entry into the town in the wake of recent flooding. We are working with the Department of Interior and our Congressional delegation to reopen the road."

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government will consider offers to pay for park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks to the states.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said his state has resources that could be used to operate the parks if federal funding is not available. Governors of South Dakota and Arizona.

October is a peak month for tourism in many parts of the West.

Herbert said in a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama that the shutdown of national parks has been "devastating" to individuals and businesses that rely on park operations for their livelihood. Utah is home to five national parks, including Zion, Bryce and Arches, which attract visitors from around the world.

"The current federally mandated closure is decimating the bottom line of bed-and-breakfast business owners and operators in Torrey (Utah), outfitters at Bryce Canyon City and restaurant owners in Moab," Herbert wrote.

He estimated the economic impact of the federal government shutdown on Utah at about $100 million.

Blake Androff, a spokesman for Jewell, said the Interior Department will consider agreements with governors who "indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to re-open national parks in their states."

Decisions about which parks to reopen and for how long have not been made, Androff said.

Figures compiled by a coalition of retired park service workers indicate that some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the parks and that the surrounding areas are losing $76 million in visitor spending per day.

The park service said it is losing $450,000 per day in revenue from entrance fees and other in-park expenditures, such as campground fees and boat rentals.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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