Two Box Elder sites left off list of Utah park reopenings

Oct 12 2013 - 8:19am

Images

The 119 steam locomotive sits on the tracks during the Winter Steam Festival at the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory on Saturday, December 29, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
The Winter Steam Festival at the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory on Saturday, December 29, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
White Faced Ibis in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Wednesday, June 10, 2009.(Photo by Matthew Hatfield)
Sharon Vaughn from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, left, and John Cavitt, Professor of Zoology at Weber State University wade through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on their way to a nesting area for White Faced Ibis Wednesday, June 10, 2009.(Photo by Matthew Hatfield)
The 119 steam locomotive sits on the tracks during the Winter Steam Festival at the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory on Saturday, December 29, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
The Winter Steam Festival at the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory on Saturday, December 29, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
White Faced Ibis in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Wednesday, June 10, 2009.(Photo by Matthew Hatfield)
Sharon Vaughn from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, left, and John Cavitt, Professor of Zoology at Weber State University wade through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on their way to a nesting area for White Faced Ibis Wednesday, June 10, 2009.(Photo by Matthew Hatfield)

BRIGHAM CITY -- Four of the five national parks in Utah began welcoming visitors again Friday after being closed as part of the government shutdown then reopened when the state agreed to cover operating costs.

The move drew cheers from antsy tourists and relief from beleaguered shop and hotel owners whose sales tanked during the closures.

However, Box Elder officials are disappointed two federally managed tourist attractions in their county didn't make the list.

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City and the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory are not among the national parks and monuments in Utah to be reopened.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government late Thursday -- enough to keep the national parks in the state open for 10 days.

If the federal government shutdown continues and Utah wants to keep its national parks open beyond those 10 days, Utah's Legislature would have to meet for a special session to consider spending $167,000 a day.

Zion National Park was the first site to reopen, with Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef opening later in the day. Natural Bridges National Monument also opened.

Canyonlands will reopen today. The state also plans to reopen Cedar Breaks National Monument and Glen Canyon Recreation Area, also in Southern Utah.

"We're kind of scrambling to get staff back on board," said Paul Henderson, assistant superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

The Box Elder County parks were not forgotten but were not on the list of national parks within areas of the state being the most economically affected as a result of the shutdown, state officials say.

"Of course, we wish we could fix it all and fund everything, but the state of Utah is doing the best it can with available resources," said Ally Isom, deputy chief of staff for Herbert's office.

"Beyond national sites, we are confronted by limited cash flow for other critical state needs."

She said the park openings are one phase in an extended conversation about how the state confronts the federal shutdown.

"In the meantime, we are hopeful Washington, D.C., will follow Utah's lead and find a common-sense solution to the current impasse," Isom said.

Box Elder officials say their federal sites, although not the largest or busiest in the state, are "a draw" that bring considerable tourist revenue to the county, particularly this time of year.

"I think we're disappointed that (the two sites) didn't get on the list," County Commissioner LuAnn Adams told the Standard-Examiner on Friday.

She said the omission needs to be discussed with the governor's staff.

Both Golden Spike and the refuge have been "blocked off" to visitors, including hunters and bird-watchers who frequent the refuge in the fall.

"Birds are a big business," Adams said.

County Commissioner Stan Summers admits the Box Elder sites bring in considerably less in tourist dollars than the national parks and monuments in Southern Utah, but pointed out the Box Elder sites would take far less staff to reopen.

Washington, D.C., politicians are "out of touch" with constituents, he said.

Besides the governor's office, he has also contacted Republican Sen. Mike Lee's office to voice his concerns about the shutdown and the need to open the federal sites in Box Elder County.

"It seems to me they just took care of the south and didn't take care of us in the north," Adams said.

Henderson expects large crowds this weekend at the reopened parks with many people off for Columbus Day on Monday and lured by the draw of crisp autumn temperatures.

"There is probably a bit of pent-up energy with folks wanting to come to the park, too," he said. "We expect it to be a busy weekend."

That is little comfort to Box Elder folks.

The third-biggest recreation draw in the county is Willard Bay State Park, which lost some visitation earlier this year after a diesel pipeline spill.

"We have sort of been double-dinged here," Adams said.

Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or bsaxton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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