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Government shutdown? Not for Utah’s national parks, Cox says

The entrance to Arches National Park in southern Utah, March 10, 2023.
Brian Albers
The entrance to Arches National Park in southern Utah, March 10, 2023.

With a possible shutdown of the federal government looming, Utah would step in to fund the operation of the most popular national parks within the state boundaries.

According to an August report by the National Parks Service, last year's visitation to Utah’s national parks added 23,312 jobs and over $2.5 billion to the state’s economy.

For state leaders like Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and Speaker of the House Brad Wilson, that’s reason enough to keep the parks open no matter what happens in Congress.

“We are all in agreement that it's worth keeping the parks open,” Cox said at a Sept. 21 news conference. ”It's so important to these shoulder communities that rely on the parks as their lifeblood. And so we are going to step up and do that again.”

Due to the remote nature of Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon National Park, many surrounding communities rely on park visitors to fuel economic activity. With no park visitors, cash flow could dry up in local communities.

The state has stepped in to fund park operations during past government shutdowns.

Cox said it cost around $1 million to keep the parks open during the 2013 shutdown, and Utah also provided funding to keep parks open during a shutdown in 2018.

“We never did get reimbursed for it,” Cox said. “Congress was supposed to do that and never did.”

This time around, Cox thinks the state has enough money to fund the parks without calling a special session of the Utah Legislature.

But that could change depending on how drawn out a future shutdown could become.

“If this was a situation where a shutdown extended for several months, we would have to reevaluate and potentially call a special session for that,” he said. “But we think we have enough right now that we can do that. And then we can adjust the budget next year in January when we come back together.”

The National Parks Service said it did not have a comment on the possibility of a government shutdown or what park operations would look like if Utah were to step in with funding.

At Zion National Park in southern Utah, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach.

“At this point, we don’t know,” said Zion National Park spokesperson Jonathan Shafer. “We'll continue to watch for guidance. We're optimistic that there won't be a lapse in appropriations, but if there is, we'll take appropriate action.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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