By Terri Attridge
Grand Canyon National Park officials are mum on the potential effects of a federal government shutdown on Tusayan’s neighbor to the north, but local business leaders are hoping it won’t come to that in Washington, D.C. this spring.
The federal government shut down for five days in November 1995 and 21 days in January 1996, closing 368 National Park sites, museums and monuments, according to CNNmoney.com. Furthermore, 4,800 employees worked through the shutdown while an additional 61,000 workers remained at home.
According to CNN, in 1995 the Grand Canyon National Park shutdown for five days. When faced with potential shutdown in 1996, Arizona officials negotiated with the Department of Interior to partially pay the Park Service to keep some areas of the park open for visitors.
The article “Grand Canyon ‘State’ Park? A Look Back At The 1995 Government Shutdown And The Battle Over the Grand Canyon,” found at Nationalparkstraveler.com, provides specifics on the shutdown of ‘95.Visitor facilities between Mather Point and Hermit’s Rest on the South Rim were kept open, as were lodges, restaurants, shops and bus tours, according to the web site. Closures included East Rim overlooks, Desert View watchtower, Tusayan Museum, trails below the canyon rim, Phantom Ranch, the Colorado River, the North Rim, and Lees Ferry.
The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a bill to avert a government shutdown on a temporary basis, funding the government until April 8. The Senate also will vote the measure sometime this week. If Congress can’t get its house in order by then, the Grand Canyon National Park could face a similar fate as it did in the mid-90s.
Josie Bustillos from the Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau said Tusayan and regional businesses are hoping for the best.
“The effects would drastically affect not only Tusayan but Flagstaff and Williams as well,” she said.
Bustillos said that although the National Park Service refuses to comment, she has reason to believe that the closing of the park would be handled differently then it had been in the past.
“They can’t close State Route 64 but they would block off all viewing points,” Bustillos said.
Bustillos indicated that several hotels in Tusayan are planning for a shutdown although community members are skeptical that it will happen.
According to the Washington Post, the Federal Government is preparing for a shutdown regardless.
“Federal agencies must maintain plans ‘for an orderly shutdown in the event of the absence of appropriations,’ according to Office of Management and Budget guidance issued each year to agency officials,” wrote Post reporter Ed O’Keefe. “The plans must include estimates of how long it would take agencies to complete a shutdown and the number of employees that would need to work during one, OMB said.”
The military, law enforcement and medical care employees would continue to work through a shutdown. These federal employees that protect lives and property would continue to be paid.
The Post provided partial data obtained by the Government Accountability Office following the November 1995 shutdown.
“At that time, the departments of Commerce, Justice and State kept about 63 percent of their workers on the payroll. Just over 50 percent of Interior Department workers stayed on the job, as did 42 percent of employees at the departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services, GAO said,” the Post reported.
Three million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year and spend $300 million each year. The Jackson Hole News and Guide is fully aware of the threat that this poses for the popular national park.
Tim O’Donoghue, executive director Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, told told the News and Guide a Yellowstone shutdown would crush the local gateway community.
“‘The nature of Jackson Hole is we’re a community that’s surrounded by federal land,’ he said. ‘When that access is closed, I can only assume what it would do to business in towns, but I assume it would be hurtful. Local businesses that have already felt the pinch of a tight economy would suffer further if public lands were closed,’” according to the News and Guide.
Grand Canyon businesses and many community members are keeping a close eye on what happens in D.C., Bustillos said.