Utah Pays $1.6 Million to Reopen its National Parks

The federal government authorizes Utah to reopen its five national parks by the weekend.

Thors Hammer near Sunrise Point is located in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
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"The world should know Utah is open for business," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, after he signed a contract with the Federal government that would allow Utah to open its five national parks by Saturday.

The deal requires Utah to pay to a total of $1.67 million for the 10 days, $166,572 a day, so eight sites – including five national parks, two national monuments and a national recreation area – can reopen as early as Saturday morning.

[READ: Feds to Let States Pay to Open Parks]

The deal came after Herbert wrote a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, requesting that Utah's national parks and monuments be allowed to open. On Wednesday, Herbert offered to lend money from the state to get the government running. Herbert and Utah legislators then spent all of Thursday composing a contract that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell could accept. Jewell authorized the reopening in a phone call early Friday morning, saying that parks could reopen within 24 hours of the money transfer.

Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are the five national parks that bring millions of tourists from around the world to Utah's soil. Zion National Park alone boasts 3 million visitors annually.

Many Utah residents are pleased with the reopening, especially due to the fact that October tends to be a particularly busy month for Utah's national parks, generating an estimated $100 million. "October is a big month for us, usually one of the top three in a given year," said Dean Cook, general manager of the Best Western Zion Park Inn. "We have lost significant dollars in these 10 days that unfortunately we'll never be able to recoup."

[MORE: One Small Step for Man: Lawmakers Want a National Park on the Moon]

Officials said the economic repercussions for the communities in the state could have been worse had the parks stayed closed through October.

Bryce Canyon, located in Garfield County, brings in 75 percent of the county's revenue from tourists visiting the red gorges, NPR reports.

"Utah's national parks are the backbone of many rural economies and hard-working Utahans are paying a heavy price for this shutdown," Herbert said. "I commend Secretary Jewell for being open to Utah's solution."

But some Utah lawmakers are apprehensive about the deal due to the large sum of money involved and the reality that the federal government may not pay the state back. Interior Department spokesman Blake Androff said the government was not obligated to reimburse the state.

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told the Deseret News that state lawmakers will be keeping a close eye on their taxpayers' dollars and will still attempt to collect compensation from the federal government.

Governors of Arizona, South Dakota and Colorado are also working on similar deals with the federal government to reopen national parks in their states.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said that while she wants to reopen the Grand Canyon, one of the state's largest economic producers, she also can't pay the federal government's bills indefinitely.

Governors of other states, such as Wyoming, share Brewer's sentiments, and won't even consider opening national parks on the states' dime.

"Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government," Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's spokesman, Renny MacKay, told The Associated Press.

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