Yellowstone Shutdown

States Pay to Reopen National Parks; Unlikely Course for Yellowstone

Several states, including Utah, are paying the federal government to reopen National Parks closed by the federal shutdown, but there appears to be little appetite for opening Yellowstone National Park for the rest of the season.

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reached agreement on the plan to reopen the state’s eight national sites, paying the U.S. Government up to $1.67 million — $166,572 per day — to reopen them for up to 10 days.

“Utah’s national parks are the backbone of many rural economies and hard-working Utahns are paying a heavy price for this shutdown,” Governor Herbert said.  “I commend Secretary Jewell for being open to Utah’s solution, and the world should know Utah is open for business and visitors are welcome.”

Under the terms of the deal, the Interior Department will notify site-specific personnel to return to work as soon as the State of Utah wires the money. Secretary Jewell indicated to the Governor that within 24 hours of receiving wired funds, the national sites could be open and fully operational.  At the time of this release, Utah expects parks to begin re-opening tomorrow and become fully operational by Saturday.

For Utah, the payment is seen as an investment: October is a busy time in the state’s national sites, and the feeling is that the rise in the tourism economy would offset the payment. In addition, Utah will be seeking a reimbursement for the money paid to the feds — from the feds, when budget negotiations begin. Utah should have help from Western congressmen who will fight for the reimbursement, such as Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who says he will introduce legislation to enable to paybacks:

“Glacier and Yellowstone national parks not only represent an important part of Montana’s heritage, they are important drivers of our state’s economy,” Daines said in a statement. “While I’m pleased that the Obama administration has finally relented and allowed individual states to get our national parks open again, it’s unacceptable that a state like Montana could be forced to bear even more of a financial burden because of Washington’s failures. My legislation will protect states and ensure they receive full compensation for their work to reopen our national park gates.”

Not that it will do much good for those planning a Yellowstone trip any time soon, as governors in Wyoming and Montana say they pay to play, according to the Caspar Star-Tribune:

Wyoming won’t bail out the federal government and spend state money to do federal work, [Gov. Matt] Mead spokesman Renny MacKay wrote in an email to the Caspar Star-Tribune.

Mead wasn’t enticed by the Interior Department’s decision to give the parks an exemption that no other federal agency was offered. When the shutdown came into effect last week, federal agencies emphasized that revenue sources independent of federal appropriations were forbidden.

“Gov. Mead did ask about the federal government’s plan for national parks and was told the shutdown order prohibited any state from reopening a national park,” MacKay wrote. “While the Department of Interior’s position may have changed, Wyoming’s position has not.”

“Of course not,” Mont. Gov. Steve Bullock told the Missoulian. “When I say that it’s long past time to open up the government and end this reckless and job-killing shutdown, I mean the entire government – benefits for the families of service members killed in combat, ‘open’ signs at Social Security offices and resumed use of our national parks.”

We are fast approaching the end of the season in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The only services scheduled to be open in past this weekend is the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which normally would close on Oct. 20, and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge fast-food shop and the Old Faithful Visitor Center, scheduled to remain open through Nov. 3. All, of course, are closed now. You can see a list of all 2013 opening and closing dates here. We’re also approaching the scheduled close of roads in Yellowstone: Tower to Canyon — the snowy Dunraven Pass — is scheduled to close Oct. 15, and all other Yellowstone roads, except the stretch between the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance serving Silver Gate and Cooke City year-round, are set to close on Nov. 4 at 8 a.m.

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