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.
“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.
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.
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.
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