SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Four of Utah's five national parks began welcoming visitors again Friday after being closed as part of the government shutdown then reopening when the state agreed to cover the operating costs.
The move drew cheers from antsy tourists and relief from beleaguered shop and hotel owners whose sales tanked during the closures.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government late Thursday — enough to keep the national parks in the state open for 10 days.
If the federal government shutdown continues and Utah wants to keep its national parks open beyond those 10 days, the Legislature would have to meet for a special session to consider spending $167,000 a day.
Zion National Park was the first site to reopen, with Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef set to open later in the day. The Natural Bridges national monument also opened. Lake Powell was partially opened and will be fully open by Saturday. Canyonlands will reopen Saturday.
"We're kind of scrambling to get staff back on board," said Paul Henderson, assistant superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Federal workers were not allowed to use their government emails during the shutdown, he said, so supervisors spent Thursday night and Friday morning tracking down workers on personal emails and cellphone.
Henderson expects large crowds this weekend with many people off for Columbus Day Monday and lured by the draw of the crisp autumn temperatures.
"There is probably a bit of pent-up energy with folks wanting to come to the park, too," Henderson said. "We expect it to be a busy weekend."
Busy is exactly what shop, restaurant and hotel owners are hoping for in the small town of Springdale, adjacent to Zion National Park. Hotels have been partially vacant and retail and rental shops have seen sales plummet during the shutdown.
"A lot of businesses have suffered severely because of the government," said Jenna Milligan of Zion Outfitters. "I just hope it does stay open through autumn."