The government shutdown is over, but Utah state officials say the the episode indicates the need for greater state and local control over America’s national parks.
Utah Attorney General John Swallow, along with Assistant Attorney General Anthony Rampton, co-wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune saying that the closures caused by the federal government shutdown inflicted significant harm on the state and vacationers.
With cool temperatures and fall foliage in many states, October typically is among the busiest of months for America’s national parks.
“Local economies, merchants and service providers who rely heavily upon the tourism and recreation associated with the parks immediately lost their lifeblood,” they wrote. “Tourists and vacationers from all over the world were turned away, along with their desires to experience the beauty and grandeur of Utah’s scenic wonders. State, county and local governments were suddenly faced with the prospects of the loss of projected and necessary revenues.”
They noted that before the shutdown ended, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hammered out a deal allowing the state to fund the re-opening and operation of the parks on a temporary basis, adding that they “are proud of the role the attorney general’s office played in this process.” Even then, though, the national parks in Utah were closed more than a week.
“We had people waiting outside our barricades when we opened. We had a bus in our parking lot within the first 15 minutes. People were anxious to get here,” Leah McGinnis, superintendent of Capitol Reef National Park told the Deseret News.
Cars reportedly were lined up outside Zion National Park when that park re-opened.
“I’m sure they’re scrambling like mad to get things working,” Dean Cook, president of the Zion Canyon Visitors Bureau, told the Deseret News.
Cook, who is also the general manager of the Best Western Zion Park Inn, said the shutdown has been tough on local businesses.
“It’s been very unnerving and frustrating for a community like ours,” he said. “Right now, we’re just excited about trying to salvage what we can in the month of October after the bloodletting.”
During the shutdown, Utah sent $1.67 million to the Interior Department to start the reopening the parks and agreed to pay $167,000 each day in operating costs for up to 10 days, the Deseret News reported, adding that Herbert said the state is “losing millions of dollars a day when [the parks are] closed, so putting out $167,000 a day to return millions into the economy certainly is a good bargain.”
Under the budget that passed Congress, states like Utah will not get reimbursed.
In their op-ed, Swallow and Rampton argued that Utah assumes “substantial risk” by relying on the federal government to fund and administer programs directly affecting Utah businesses and lives.
“Because of the extensive federal presence in the state, Utah is particularly vulnerable to political and financial fluctuations in Washington,” they wrote.
In addition, they said operation and implementation of government programs—including public lands — should fall to those who feel the most impact and understand the situation on the ground best.
“Those in Washington simply do not understand, nor do they appreciate, the effects their far-removed decisions have on rural Utah,” they wrote.
Swallow and Rampton wrote that recent events in Utah show that state and local governments will act responsibly in the interests of all Americans if given greater powers.
“Utah’s track record of government management and accountability is unmatched,” they wrote. “The last few weeks show Utah can and should have an enhanced role in its citizens’ affairs and in the uses of its land. The long-term public health, safety and economic welfare of Utahns depend on it.”