Under pressure from several governors, the federal government will allow states to use their own money to open national parks that are closed because of the shutdown.
“Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Secretary (Sally) Jewell will consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to reopen national parks in their states,” Blake Androff, a spokesman for the U.S. Interior Department, said in a statement.
Governors in at least four states had asked the National Park Service to allow them to reopen national parks within their borders because of the impact closed parks were having on local businesses and communities.
That includes the governors of Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota and Utah, according to The Associated Press, which first broke the story that the Obama administration was going to let states pay to keep parks open.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the development a “breakthrough” in a tweet posted Thursday.
But that might not mean visitors flocking to the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore tomorrow.
Tony Venhuizen, a spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, called the federal government’s announcement a counter-offer to the governor’s proposal since the state had offered to pay for a “scaled-back” opening of Mount Rushmore, using state personnel.
In a conversation between Daugaard and Jewell on Thursday, the secretary indicated the federal government would be willing to let the state reopen Mount Rushmore, but the park had to be reopened entirely and using normal federal employees. The state would essentially have to pay the federal government in cash to cover the operating costs for running the park.
At the time of their conversation, Jewell did not have an estimate of the cost to the state, a key consideration.
Daugaard is “very pleased that the National Park Service is changing its approach and is now willing to try and work with states to find ways to work through the shutdown and reopen some of these facilities,” Venhuizen said. “But until we have the details from them about how their proposal would work, most importantly the cost to the state, it really is impossible for him to evaluate it, one way or the other.”
Kristen Brengel, director of legislative affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association, said while it’s great that the federal government made the offer, “not every state is going to be able to afford to do this.”
reported earlier, visitors spend about $76 million a day in communities near national parks.