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Zion National Park Relying On Visitors' Goodwill As Government Shutdown Drags On

Photo of visitors at Zion National Park. / kellyvandellen

Visitors have not stopped entering national parks despite the partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22 and Zion National Park in southern Utah is no exception.

Without federal funding, the National Park Service can’t pay for services like visitors centers, road services like plowing and trash collections.

The continued traffic at national parks is creating some concerns. The Associated Press reports overflowing trash, human waste and illegal off-roads at California’s Yosemite and Joshua Tree national parks are a few of the issues observed nationwide.

But Lyman Hafen, the executive director of the Zion National Park Forever Project, said the situation is different at Zion. His organization is the Zion’s private nonprofit partner.

The state of Utah immediately stepped up to pay $80,000 in state funds for basic services at Zion like restrooms and trash collection. The Zion National Park Forever Project took over footing that bill starting Tuesday and are committed to pay about $2,000 a day for those things through Saturday.

Zion has seen about 10,000 to 12,000 visitors a day during the holiday season, Hafen said.

Hafen said he thinks their quick actions to ensure basic staff presence at Zion has sidestepped problems like overflowing port-a-potties as seen at other parks.

“We’ve really had to depend on the goodwill of the visitors, for them to make good decisions while they are in the park,” he said.

With no indication of when the government will reopen again, Hafen said they can only hope it ends by Saturday.

If that doesn’t happen, Hafen said the state of Utah and his nonprofit will have to decide which one of them will continue to pay for those services.

“These are national treasures and they shouldn’t be managed at the whim of any kind of government dysfunction,” Hafen said.

While Hafen hopes government shutdowns don’t become a norm, he said he does think Zion was better prepared for one this time around.

Washington County has also offered its support to the state of Utah and the Zion Forever Project as they continue to ensure that the park’s basic amenities are available, Hafen said.

Salt Lake City also announced Wednesday that its public utilities watershed rangers are maintaining public restrooms throughout the central Wasatch canyons during the federal government shutdown.

Salt Lake City said that work is typically done by the Salt Lake Ranger District, one of the eight geographical districts within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

“Salt Lake City takes our responsibility to maintain the valley’s precious watershed areas seriously,” Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement. “We will not allow gridlock in Washington to damage these pristine areas which are part of our identity as Utahns.”

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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