Shutdown: Southern Utah counties assessing options for national parks; Herbert wants negotiation

Bryce Canyon National Park stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – County officials and sheriffs spread across Southern Utah continue to “assess their options” as far as the national parks are concerned. 

Grand County joined other Utah counties Wednesday in declaring a local state of emergency due to the economic impact caused by the closure of national parks and monuments. In San Juan County, a possible move to remove barricades denying access to Lake Powell has been put on hold. Meanwhile in Iron County, Cedar Breaks National Monument remains closed, yet open to visitors.

On the state level Gov. Gary Herbert spoke to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about using state funds to open and operate the national parks to some degree, according to Fox 13 News.

Also, in an effort to stir tourism during the closure of the “Mighty Five” national parks, the governor has issued a letter stating that any national parks pass will be accepted for free admission to all of Utah’s 43 state parks.  See the governor’s letter here: Toursim Office Governor Shutdown Letter

Suggested alternatives to the national parks can be found on

Such is the state of things on the ninth day of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Grand County and the governor’s current stance on the emergency declarations

Grand County contains Arches National Park and a gateway into the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. According to the resolution declaring a state of emergency for the county, approximately 2.5 million people visit annually and make up for around 76 percent of the county’s economy.

This closure is having a devastating impact on the Grand County residents who rely on visitors to federally managed lands,” the resolution states.

As of Oct. 9, county officials estimate over $2.6 million of revenue has been lost since the start of the shutdown.

As for Grand and other counties that have filed similar resolutions, Fox 13 News reported Herbert is hesitant to seek a formal declaration, as it would likely entail federal disaster relief.

I just don’t know what it gets us,” Herbert told Fox 13 News. “I think the negotiation right now, what we’re doing, is probably the best approach.”

The governor has indicated he is willing to lend the federal government money to open the parks.

San Juan County

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman wrote over Facebook that the county planned to “peacefully remove the barriers to places like Lake Powell, Natural Bridges, Canyonlands and Hovenweep and allow visitors to enjoy their places.” This action has been put on hold, however.

The county has not made any decision at this point in time,” to remove the barriers, said Rick Bailey, San Juan County public information officer.

Bailey said a large portion of the county’s economy was produced by tourism created by Lake Powell. “We’re highly dependent on recreation and tourism,” he said.

Garfield and Washington counties

The Garfield and Washington County Sheriff’s Offices and other county officials continue to meet with the superintendents of Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks in an effort to coordinate their possible reopening. They are trying to determine just what the counties would have to do to be able to safely and effectively run the park, if even in some limited capacity.

We’re assessing our options,” Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said. He did not comment on potential plans to reopen Zion National Park. Garfield County officials were also unable to make any official statements concerning county efforts to reopen Bryce Canyon.

Cedar Breaks

Cedar Breaks National Monument remains officially closed, yet open to visitors, Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller said.

After speaking with National Park Service officials, Iron County was able to get the barriers to scenic overlooks and turnouts removed so any visitors to the area could enjoy the sights of the monument. This action also negates potential safety concerns expressed by the county Sheriff’s Office.

However, the visitor center and public restrooms will remain closed.

Though access to Cedar Breaks has been restored, Miller said, “we’re going to be working very closely with our neighboring counties to get the parks open. We are prepared to do what we need to do.”

Interior Secretary Jewell has yet to give Herbert a definite reply concerning the parks, though Fox 13 News reported Herbert said she was open to the idea of reopening them.

She said she understands the situation,” Herbert said. “She wanted to know if it could be done, legally.”

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Bryce Canyon National Park stock image, St. George News
Bryce Canyon National Park stock image, St. George News

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