The government shutdown is well into its second week with no end in sight, and students and community members have expressed outrage at the closing of national parks around the country.
The ASU Outdoors Club had planned trips to Zion National Park in Utah and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada for fall break but had to postpone its plans.
Film and media studies junior Dakota Snider, the club’s vice president, said the trips were planned two months ago and involved down payments to the parks. In order to accommodate the large number of members, the club had to reserve group sites.
“The government has that money, and we can’t find out when or if we’re going to get refunds,” he said. “We can’t access anything online. The most heartbreaking thing is that they’re banning us from nature for something that is happening politically in Washington, D.C.”
Snider said the postponement had perhaps been hardest for international students in the club, who may never have the opportunity to visit these parks again.
The club recently visited Tonto National Forest near Payson and had to find alternatives camping sites.
“If a campground is established within a national forest we can’t camp there,” Snider said. “We just camped on state land, which has no amenities. We are big implementers of ‘Leave No Trace,’ and we really had to pay attention to how much environmental impact we had.”
However, some members still planned to find state land and camp there this fall break, Snider said.
The Grand Canyon’s West Rim, owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe, has remained open and most parks offer overflights as well.
“Zion and Red Rock are offering overflights, but as college students, that costs a lot of money, and we’re limited,” Snider said.
Biological sciences senior Rachel Olzer, the club’s event coordinator, said she hoped people entering national parks illegally during this time would be cognizant of some of the dangers they pose.
“We need to keep in mind the reason we have parks is to protect land,” she said. “You don’t know who’s entering when it’s closed down, and this makes it very vulnerable to destruction. As an outdoor enthusiast, I’m torn, but we need to be cautious in permitting this.”
Tusayan, Ariz. Mayor Greg Bryan said the shutdown had greatly impacted people’s livelihoods. Tusayan borders the Grand Canyon National Park and relies on revenue from tourists to keep the town’s economy afloat.
“I know of at least one hotel that has lost a quarter of million dollars in just the first week,” he said. “If this park is closed, we will be closed not long after. We have had numerous conversations with Gov. (Jan) Brewer about the opportunity to open at least a portion of the park.”
Bryan said efforts also included reopening U.S. Route 64, a key highway for visitors and most tour buses. The city of Tusayan has chosen to appropriate $200,000 to reopen a portion of the park, and businesses have pledged about $150,000 in support.
“(Brewer) has requested to allow the private sector and the state find ways to reopen the national park,” he said. “Her legal team is looking into NPS saying they can’t reopen the park with private sector money.”
Grand Canyon Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and other federal officials have said they will not accept this request.
Brewer argued that the U.S. Department of Interior had allowed a partial reopening of the park previously. The state put up the money and reopened the park with park staff running it in 1995, Bryan said.
“It’s ridiculous to hold a World Heritage Site hostage while folks in Washington play political games,” he said. “We just want to keep the pressure on the Department of Interior and the National Park Service.”
The U.S. Department of Interior announced Thursday morning that it would begin talking with governors about reopening national parks.
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