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Government shutdown could cost state millions as national parks close

Visitors to Mather Point on the South Rim watch as a storm breaks in the Grand Canyon in this February photo. (Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service)

Visitors to Mather Point on the South Rim watch as a storm breaks in the Grand Canyon in this February photo. (Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service)

WASHINGTON – Arizona’s tourism industry stands to lose millions of dollars per day if national parks close as part of a possible federal government shutdown next week.

Visitors to Arizona’s national parks spent an average of $2.7 million a day in each of the last two Octobers, according to a National Parks Conservation Associationcompilation of Park Service numbers. Visitors at Grand Canyon National Park alone spend $1.2 million per day, the association said.

But those revenues would disappear if Congress cannot agree by Monday on a budget for fiscal 2014, which begins Tuesday. That could spark a shutdown of the government that would include closing all national parks, according to the National Park Service’s contingency plan.

“The impact will be huge,” said Kevin Dahl, senior program manager at NPCA’s Arizona office.

Arizona national parks had nearly 10 million visitors in 2012 and generated $737 million in economic activity in 2011, according to National Park Service statistics. The parks system in Arizona includes Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and 19 other national monuments, memorials, recreation areas, historic sites and trails.

The Interior Department announced its shutdown plans Friday, saying it would close all national parks and give guests at hotels in national parks two days to make other plans and leave. The park service will keep a small number of employees on the clock, according to its contingency plan.

“As a rule, staffing will be held to the very minimum for the protection of life, property, and public health and safety,” the service’s contingency plan says. “Only personnel absolutely required to support these activities will remain on duty.”

The National Park Service employed 1,315 people in Arizona as of June, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Dahl said the closure of national parks would be tough on Arizona’s tourism industry, and that businesses would struggle in towns like Flagstaff, considered the “gateway to the Grand Canyon.”

Flagstaff City Councilwoman Celia Barotz said that if it comes down to a shutdown, the city can try to inform tourists of other attractions, like state parks. But she said that would still be a disappointment and that the city’s hotels and restaurants would probably struggle.

“When they (visitors) leave the Grand Canyon for the first time they’re blown away,” Barotz said. “If they come to see that for the first time and then we say they should go to our city parks, that’s disappointing.”

Tourists will still be able to see the Grand Canyon if they take a private helicopter tour or if they visit the western rim, which is owned by the Hualapai Tribe, said Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. But closing Grand Canyon and all the other national parks in Arizona will likely hurt the state’s economy and its reputation among tourists, Jarnagin said.

Dahl said he hoped that Congress would avoid a shutdown, although he said considerable resources have probably already been spent planning for it, which makes the situation even more economically damaging.

The House last week voted to continue funding the government through Dec. 15, but only after stripping out funding for the health care reform act better known as Obamacare. The Senate and White House both have said they would reject any bill that kills health care reform, and the Senate Friday sent a bill back to the House that includes Obamacare funding but funds the government only through Nov. 15.

Congress was expected to work through the weekend on the budget.

“Come on, America’s better than this,” Dahl said of the wrangling. “This is a horrible way to do budgeting.”

As for the environmental effects of a shutdown, closing the country’s national parks might actually be a good thing, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. With a decline in visitors, fewer animals would be run over by cars and fewer plants would be trampled, he said.

The downside, Ruch said, is that the shutdown would interrupt environmental studies. Scientists could lose valuable data if federal employees cannot collect information at this time of the year because of a shutdown.

“That’s sort of irreplaceable,” Ruch said.

Parks that pay

The top five National Park Service sites in Arizona in terms of the amount visitors spend in a given day:

- Grand Canyon National Park: $1,221,075

- Lake Mead National Recreation Area: $543,817

- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: $369,319

- Petrified Forest National Park: $122,507

- Montezuma Castle National Monument: $90,870

3 comments

  1. Arizona hates the Federal government and wants ‘states’ rights” — well pay for it.

    Time to decide whether the state wants tourism and its state parks or prisons.

    As the state increases the prison / Corrections budget and has thousands of private corporation prison beds and a new Super Max $50,000,000 budget for a 500 bed NEW Super Max prison, Arizona does NOT need, its time for the taxpayers to let the Governor and lawmakers know what matters to you — not that they even care.

    Wake up folks! Tourism or prisons.

  2. Federal $$$’s pouring into the state along with taxpayers $$$’s handed over to the private prison corporation profiteers. “Prison” state is Arizona’s “business model”. Truly shameful.

    Who wants to visit a prison state and be surveilled — (example: ASU football game – empty parking lot), police cruising the restaurants’ parking lots for DUI’s, preying on the young and vulnerable — as future customers for Arizona’s broken criminal justice system (where there is NO presumption of innocence) for the private prison corporations who answer to no one. Just building their “brand” and looking for people turned into commodities for $$$’s?

    Seeking Redemption: Private Prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown and All of Us | Pastor Michael McBride

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pastor-michael-mcbride/california-private-prisons_b_3996493.html

  3. To Stop the Craziness in Washington, Fund the Census – NYTimes.com

    http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/04/to-stop-the-craziness-in-washington-fund-the-census/?_r=0

    John McDonaldVancouver, Washington

    “As this editorial notes, the Census provides facts, figures and information on more than just population. Census surveys provide half of the info which the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to tabulate the monthly unemployment numbers. Other surveys provide a wealth of info on crime, income, spending, transportation, housing, schools, medical care, hospitals…the list goes on. We all know that there are certain politicians who prefer their own “facts” to actual facts. Can it be that this accounts for some of the opposition to fully funding Census operations?”

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