Arizona in deal to pay for Grand Canyon reopening

Posted: Updated:
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona reached a deal Friday with the Interior Department to pay for Grand Canyon National Park to completely reopen using state and local funds during the federal government shutdown.

The deal means the park should reopen Saturday, allowing thousands of tourists to flock to the natural wonder in northern Arizona, said Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Republican Gov. Jan. Jan Brewer.

Arizona will pay the national Park Service $651,000 to keep the Grand Canyon open for seven days. The $93,000 a day is less than the $112,000 daily rate the federal government said this week was needed to fund the park operations.

In addition to state money, cash provided by the town of Tusayan and raised from private business would also be included in the funding.

Park spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said Friday evening that officials at the park hadn't been notified of the deal and were awaiting word.

Brewer had been pushing to only use state money to open a portion of the park, something the Interior Department said Thursday it would not contemplate because of the complexities of keeping some parts of individual national parks closed while other parts were opened.

National parks in Utah began opening Friday after Gov. Gary Herbert sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government, while Colorado paid $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park through Oct. 20.

Brewer and the state's congressional delegation had been lobbying the Obama administration to allow reopening of the park since shortly after it closed Oct. 1. Three other states also made the request about their parks.

The Interior Department refused but then announced Thursday it was changing its position and would allow states to pay to cover the cost of reopening shuttered national parks. No promise was made of reimbursement once the government is funded again.

The park closed for only the second time since it was made a national park in 1919. Federal and private employees were furloughed, river rafting trips canceled and campgrounds, hotels and hiking trails closed.

The 18,000 tourists who visit the Grand Canyon each day at this time of year pour an estimated $1.3 million a day into nearby communities. Hotels, tour operators and rafting companies felt the hit and called on the state to help. The National Park Service said 2,200 federal and private employees who work in the park are on furlough.

Arizona was the only state that reopened a national park after a 1995 shutdown, with then-Gov. Fife Symington negotiating a deal to open the road to the Grand Canyon with private and state money that was later reimbursed.

The majority of the park remained closed, but tourists from around the world were able to get to the most popular scenic overlooks using 11 miles of roadway, walk the South Rim and visit Grand Canyon Village.

Brewer's administration pushed to use that agreement as a framework for what the state was willing to do this time around, Wilder said. The 1995 cost was $17,625 per day.