Park Service to take ‘extraordinary step’ to keep parks operating during shutdown

A sign is posted on a gate blocking a parking lot to Land's End in San Francisco, Jan. 3, 2019. Nonprofits, businesses and state governments across the country are paying bills and putting in volunteer hours in an uphill battle to keep national parks safe and clean for visitors as the partial U.S. government shutdown lingers. | Associated Press photo by Jeff Chiu, St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — The National Park Service says it is taking the extraordinary step of dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at its highly visited parks in the wake of the partial government shutdown.

P. Daniel Smith, deputy director of the service, said in a statement Sunday that the money would be used to bring in staff to maintain restrooms, plow roads, clean up trash and patrol the parks. He acknowledged that the Trump administration’s decision to keep the parks open during the weekslong budget impasse was no longer workable and so more extreme measures were warranted.

Parks have been relying on outside help for security and upkeep, including Zion National Park in Southern Utah, where the city of St. George, Washington County and the nonprofit Zion Forever project are funding “bare-bones” park operations.

Read more: St. George pledges money to keep Zion open during persistent shutdown

“We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services,” Smith said.

Zion National Park, one of Utah’s federally managed parks affected by a partial government shutdown. Photo taken January 2017 | Photo by Hage Photo/Utah Office of Tourism, St. George News

Utah’s congressmen warned Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Friday of risks to human life and property without funding. They asked Bernhardt to restart regular operations.

Read more: Utah’s GOP congressmen request emergency action on national parks amid shutdown

Bernhardt responded to the congressmen with his own letter acknowledging the difficulties parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon are experiencing, explaining his directive to tap into entrance fees.

“This approach means that many of the burdens being born by local communities should be addressed by park service personnel within days,” Bernhardt’s letter reads.

Democrats want the parks fully opened. But Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the incoming chair of the subcommittee overseeing Interior appropriations, said Sunday that dipping into user fees was “not acceptable” in this situation and likely violates the law.

Parks supporters called the administration’s move misguided.

“Instead of working to reopen the federal government, the administration is robbing money collected from entrance fees to operate our national parks during this shutdown,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“For those parks that don’t collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors,” Pierno said. “Draining accounts dry is not the answer.”

Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. St. George News reporter Joseph Witham contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Fester January 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

    This is great, it means Utahns can actually visit some of their most off limit places reserved for foreign tourists such as The Wave, or Subway. Go out and be free people, but please cleanup your own trash. Otherwise Mama Gubmint wants to use your litter as an excuse to bring all those tax eaters back and working.

    And we all know the tax eaters being kept home for political purposes will get paid in the end, that’s why the media propagandists are not carping about the effect on state unemployment costs. Tax payers have to file for unemployment, tax eaters get paid for doing nothing whether they are home or at work.

  • Comment January 7, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    It’s true that daddy gubmunt’s employees are probably just getting a prolonged paid vacation, thanks trump.

    I also think it’s absurd that they stopped collecting tolls for the parks. The whole thing is ridiculous, really.

  • utahdiablo January 7, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    That’s what I’ve been saying all along, why in the hell are you allowing people ( tourists or locals ) to pass through the gates of Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, or wherever without paying?…Open the heated / air conditioned Ranger ticket booths and get the entrance fees, or at least a “discounted” fee of say $10 per day per person if many areas have to be closed off because of limited number of rangers…but to allow just anyone through at anytime for free is just crazytown folks, after all the Utah Greed Machine needs to make more money right?

    • Fester January 7, 2019 at 1:26 pm

      NPS has 115 units paying fees, which total less than $200M of their $3B budget. They are not losing much. Keep the tax eaters at home, and don’t pay them either. Make them file for unemployment like the simple peasants are required to.

  • KR567 January 7, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    om my this is terrible what will Yogi and Booboo do now for food ? …will Ranger Rick feed them until the shutdown is over ?

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