Visitors head into newly opened Arches National Park for sunset views
Some national parks in Utah have a ‘‘soft opening’’ Friday, but full access is planned for Saturday.
By Jim Dalrymple II, Brian Maffly and Brett Prettyman
| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Oct 11 2013 10:28 am
Last Updated Mar 03 2014 10:34 am
Moab • For Michael Huot, Friday’s national parks reopening did not come soon enough to save his long-planned cycling trip on Canyonlands National Park’s White Rim Trail with 14 buddies.
But his crew had no complaints about the sunset view at Delicate Arch a few hours after rangers revoked the barricades at the entrance to Arches National Park that afternoon amid cheering motorists.
"Props to the governor of Utah!" said Huot, an anesthesiologist from Rapid City, S.D., as the sandstone around him glowed orange under fading daylight and the snow-capped La Sals lit up in the distance.
A few hundred hikers made the 3-mile round trip trek from Wolfe Ranch to be among the first to visit the park since was closed along 11 days ago along with much of the federal government.
Visitors returned to the national parks in Utah on Friday to enjoy red rock views that some have waited a lifetime to see.
Zion National Park, Utah’s most visited, was the first to announce it was opening Friday. The park, which was already allowing drive-through traffic on State Road 9, removed cones on pullouts and let people start wandering trails.
By early afternoon, the visitor center and first-come, first-serve South Campground were open. The park shuttles, Zion Lodge, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Watchman Campground were scheduled to open Saturday.
Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks opened their toll booths for vehicle traffic Friday afternoon and were to be joined by Canyonlands National Park, in full operation mode, by Saturday morning.
Capitol Reef National Park and Natural Bridges and Cedar Break national monuments opened Friday with full operations. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area — including Rainbow Bridge National Monument — were to begin normal operations Saturday.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had $1.7 million wired to Washington, D.C., early Friday. Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, signed an agreement that will keep the parks, monuments and recreation area open for 10 days despite the government shutdown.
The money for what Utah is calling a loan and the National Park Service is dubbing a donation came from funds appropriated to Utah State Parks by the Legislature in July.
"I’m not terribly worried," Utah State Parks director Fred Hayes said Friday. "I believe the Legislature and the governor will do their part to make sure we get the money back."
The Utah State Parks budget, including capital, is about $24 million.
"We believe this is a short-term loan that will be repaid to us via a special legislative session or during the general legislative session," Hayes said. "We have no reason to believe we won’t be made whole again."
It will take an act of Congress to approve repayment of the funds. The Utah Legislature, which will meet in special session Wednesday, could approve funds to keep the areas open beyond the initial 10 days.
In a statement, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the government shutdown impacted "too many businesses, rural communities and families who rely on them."
He added: "That’s why I’m working to get Utah its money back for loaning the Department of Interior the money to reopen the parks. Governor Herbert did the right thing, and Utah deserves to be repaid."
Developed campgrounds and facilities run by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are not covered by the agreement and will remain closed until the shutdown is over. Utah State Parks never closed.
On Friday morning in Springdale, hoteliers and waiters serving breakfast excitedly shared news of a partial reopening with their guests. By 10 a.m., a long line of cars had piled up outside the toll both at the entrance to Zion National Park.
Park rangers seemed to have little information — "It’s a free day," one woman said as she waved cars into the park — though they did hand out maps to visitors.
Aly Baltrus, a spokesperson at Zion, said entry was free Friday because the park was not completely open. Fees will return Saturday.
David Fage, of Northampton, England, stopped less than a mile into the park to take pictures of the low clouds rolling down the red rock. Fage and his wife were on a tour of national parks and monuments in the American West, and were on their last day in Zion region.
"It’s smashing country," Fage said as he gazed down into a green valley below.
Fage seemed relatively unfazed by the shutdown, pointing out that he and his wife were determined to enjoy themselves and had managed to see snow and sand dunes in the same day during their trip.
Fage and his wife were headed to Monument Valley Friday, then on to the Grand Canyon, which Fage had always wanted to see.
At a nearby pullout, Suzie Morales and Carter Holland — both of Orange, Calif. — also were taking pictures. The couple arrived in Springdale on Thursday night for the Red Bull Rampage and headed into the park after hearing it was reopening.
Morales praised Herbert for moving to reopen the park, pointing out that Springdale’s economy is largely dependent on tourism.
"It is a very good thing," she said of the reopening.
The park closures were hitting Utah’s tourism-dependent businesses and towns hard, draining away visitors during a busy October season. The deal will ensure the parks are open during the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, as well as the annual fall recess for Utah schools.
But some hotels in Springdale were still waiting for their business to return. Ben Patel, general manager of Pioneer Lodge, said Friday afternoon that he hadn’t seen any significant increase in bookings after the park’s partial reopening.
According to Patel, his occupancy rate fell during the shutdown from about 90 percent to as low as 20 percent. Patel said officials "opened the park at the right time," though he didn’t expect to recover until 2014.
"This year is done, gone," he said. "We cannot recover any more."
Across the street, the Zion Park Motel was seeing a modest increase in bookings Friday. The motel experienced at least 44 cancellations during the shutdown. On Friday morning, Kris Young — whose family runs the hotel — said business was "still slow" and they had "probably less than 10" people calling for rooms after the park reopened.
Both Patel and Young said that many people still didn’t know that the park is open again and that it will be a challenge to spread the word.
Joy Stein, who drives park shuttle buses, said she received a phone call and an email from her supervisor Friday morning telling her to show up for work Saturday. Stein anticipates having a lot to do — the buses weren’t cleaned, fueled or maintained during the shutdown — but said she was excited to be going back to a job that she uses to help stay afloat at her Springdale boutique, Joy Craft and Design.
"Bottom line is I’m excited to go back to work," she said.
At Arches, Corinne Loetscher, from the Swiss city of Lucerne, felt lucky to have the park open when it did. She and her companion Michael Muther had planned their vacation to the western United States around parks, but they arrived at Gardiner, Mont. just in time to be shut out of Yellowstone National Park on Oct. 1.
They continued their trip to Salt Lake City, arriving in southern Utah in time to get into a marquee national park the moment it reopened with the state’s help.
"We really like hiking. There are so many nice points here. Utah is the nicest state. Life Elevated, like the sign says," said Loetscher, who pans to visit Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion national parks in the coming days. "We are happy with the governor. When I meet him I will give him some Toblerone."
Colorado joined Utah in funding a national park. The Interior Department announced that it had received $362,700 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days. Arizona reached an agreement late Friday to open the Grand Canyon.
In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock says the state will not pick up the tab to reopen Glacier National Park during the federal government shutdown. The Democrat told Lee Newspapers of Montana on Thursday that it’s long past time for Congress to end "this reckless and job-killing shutdown."
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s office said that state would not pay to reopen Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks.
Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this report.