Protesters demand opening of Grand Canyon

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

TUSAYAN, Ariz. (AP) -- For a brief time Tuesday, about 50 people crowded around the entrance sign to Grand Canyon National Park while helicopters hovered overhead carrying passengers over the massive gorge. Business leaders and community members organized a "fed up with the feds" protest to highlight the economic crisis they said they're facing.

Few services are available at the Grand Canyon and in Tusayan. The companies in town stake their business on access to the Grand Canyon. Becky Shearer, who manages a lodge in Tusayan, said she kept about 10 employees on during the first week of the shutdown but will be closing the 20-room lodge.

The state highway into Tusayan is now a dead-end street with everyone but park employees and residents of Grand Canyon Village being turned away. Town Council member Craig Sanderson, an air tour pilot, called on Congress to act soon to open the canyon to sightseeing.

"We're not telling the Park Service how to open it. We're saying `here's the money, do it,'" he said. "By not opening the park, that tells me it's political."

Clarinda Vail, whose family owns businesses and property in Tusayan, called the situation a crisis. She said the community is suffering economic loss resulting from the shutdown and the Obama administration's refusal to accept offers of private and public money to keep the park open.

Vail said she hopes efforts by Arizona's U.S. senators, legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer "will change some minds" within the Obama administration.

Brewer and state legislative leaders have sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to approve funding for the Arizona park and other national parks.

Brewer's staff previously called Grand Canyon Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga (yoo-bur-AH'-gah) and offered to find a way to pay to keep the park open, but he politely rejected the overture.

"Some feel I can open the gate," Uberuaga said. "I cannot open the gate. I will not open the gate."

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