Grand Canyon to reopen Saturday with state funds

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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 National Park Service said Friday night that entrances to the park will open to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday, although services to visitors may be limited during the first 48 hours as vendors restock.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office said she would travel to the canyon's South Rim on Saturday morning to "celebrate the canyon's reopening."

"I'm gratified the Obama administration agreed to reverse its policy and allow Arizona to reopen Grand Canyon, Arizona's most treasured landmark and a crucial driver of revenue to the state," Brewer said in a statement.

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.

The funding includes cash provided by the town of Tusayan, just outside the park's South Rim entrance, and raised from private business. Together, they pledged $400,000.

"I hope we have huge crowds this weekend," Tusayan business owner Clarinda Vail told 3TV Friday night.

"Hotels here have had 25 to 40 percent occupancy, when we should be at 100 percent," she said.

Jeff Slade, who owns Chandler-based the Arizona Detours bus company, says people began calling to re-book trips to the Grand Canyon shortly after the governor's announcement.

"Word got out and we've got bookings for the Canyon tomorrow, so we have quite a few people going up already." 

The state's portion of the funding is coming from the Office of Tourism, said Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Brewer.

The Republican governor had been pushing to use state money to open only 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 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.

The Interior Department is telling states they won't be reimbursed for their expenditures, but Brewer said she will push Congress to provide that funding.

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 request for their parks.

The Interior Department refused but then announced Thursday it was changing its position and would allow states to cover the cost of reopening shuttered national parks.

The Grand Canyon closed for only the second time since it became 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.

The following is official information from the National Park Service:

The National Park Service today announced that it has entered into an agreement with the State of Arizona that will allow Grand Canyon National Park to re-open and temporarily operate during the government shutdown.

Due to the lack of appropriations from Congress, the Department of the Interior was forced to close all national parks across the country last week and furlough more than 20,000 National Park Service employees who ensure the safety of visitors and the security of the resources.

Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Secretary of the Interior Jewell announced Thursday that she will consider agreements with Governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to re-open national parks in their states.

"This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Arizona during this shutdown," said Secretary Sally Jewell. "We want to re-open all of our national parks as quickly possible for everyone to enjoy and call on Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution to open the government."

Under the terms of the agreement, Arizona will donate funds to the National Park Service for the sole purpose of enabling National Park Service employees to re-open and manage Grand Canyon National Park.

The agreement funds Grand Canyon for a period of 7 days, running from Saturday, October 12 through Friday, October 18 at the donated amount of $651,000.00.

Entrances to Grand Canyon will open to the public beginning at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 12. These include the North Rim Entrance Station, the Desert View Entrance Station, and the South Rim Entrance Station. Visitors should be aware that during the first 48 hours many services will be limited.

As stated in the October 7 announcement of the River Permits Accommodation Plan, permittees who had launch dates three days prior to opening and including opening day, may choose to get a refund for permit fees and reschedule. River permit holders with the current launch date will have priority to launch on their scheduled date.

Xanterra South Rim, LLC and Delaware North Companies, Inc. will re-open concessions operated services with limited amenities for the first 48 hours. Guests with hotel reservations should contact Xanterra South Rim directly at 928-638-2631.

The North Rim will re-open for day use with limited visitor services available. The Grand Canyon Lodge operated by Forever Resorts will also re-open with limited guest services; individuals with lodge reservations should contact Forever Resorts 877-386-4383.