The Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and many other beloved national parks are open again to visitors, thanks to hundreds of thousands of state dollars pouring into federal coffers.
On Friday, the Obama administration granted permission to several states to reopen key parks closed since the partial government shutdown started on Oct. 1—with the stipulation that they pay. Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, and Utah have gambled that the cost of reopening will be less painful than lost tourism dollars.
Tourists on Saturday went back to gazing at the Grand Canyon, after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, paid the National Park Service $651,000 to keep a part of the park open for seven days. The original price tag for a full reopening was $112,000 per day, so Brewer settled on a partial reopening.
“The daily cost difference is enormous, especially without assurances that Arizona will be reimbursed,” Andrew Wilder, Brewer’s spokesman, said.
The 18,000 people who visit the site this time of year bring about $1 million a day into the local economy. That loss likely motivated private businesses in the town of Tusayan, near the entrance to the South Rim, to pledge $400,000 to help fund the reopening. The Interior Department has not accepted private funds for federal parks, although other agencies took donations for Head Start programs and military bereavement payments.
On Sunday, New York’s Statue of Liberty again welcomed visitors from around the world, including 26-year-old Esther Athanase from Le Havre, France. She booked her ticket months ago, and said, “We have to do this. It’s an American symbol. And it was a gift from France.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, plans to spend $61,000 a day in state funds so that Park Service personnel will keep the statue open. In 2011, the monument brought in $174 million from about 4 million visitors.
Other major re-openings include Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, a gateway to Estes Park. It cost the state $360,000 to reopen for 10 days, but the local economy badly needs the tourism to recover from the damage done during recent flooding.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, said he wired the government four days of funding—about $60,800—to open Mt. Rushmore, which has been closed to the public even from highway viewpoints.
Utah’s five national parks will reopen for 10 days after Gov. Gary Herbert, also a Republican, sent $1.67 million to the federal government. Herbert said his state already has lost about $100 million due to the shutdown.
Some states cannot pay the bill, and will leave their parks closed until the shutdown ends. They include Nevada, Washington, and Wyoming.
Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, said: “Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government, and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government.”