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Feds: Utah move to reopen national parks paid off

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm •  Published: March 3, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's decision to dip into state funds and spend nearly $1 million to reopen national parks during the partial government shutdown last fall paid off, according to a federal report released Monday.

Visitors to national parks in the state spent about $10 for every $1 the state paid the U.S. government to reopen nine parks along with monuments and recreation areas during a six-day period in October, the National Park Service report said.

During that time, there were 154,000 visits that led to an estimated $9.95 million in visitor spending, the report said. That includes money spent on gas, lodging, food and at outfitters in communities within 60 miles of the parks.

It was most pronounced in Zion National Park, where 58,000 visits were logged during the six days, with people spending an estimated $3 million, the report shows.

The estimates were calculated by comparing visits and money spent during the previous three Octobers.

The reopening of the parks helped Utah avoid economic losses. Still, owners of hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and guide outfitters took a hit during the first 10 days of the shutdown.

The overall number of visits to national parks in Utah dipped by 34 percent in October compared to the three-year average for that month. The decline cost state an estimated $17.7 million, the National Park Service said.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Monday in a conference call that the shutdown was a striking reminder of how powerful an economic engine national parks are for local economies.

Throughout the country, an estimated 7.88 million fewer people visited parks during the government shutdown, resulting in a loss of $414 million in visitor spending in nearby communities, the report shows.

"The very unfortunate government shutdown of October had one sliver-lining: Communities realized just how much benefit they get from the parks being open," Jewell said. "Let's hope we never have to go there again."

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