SALT LAKE CITY -- The National Park Service has closed Arches and Canyonlands national parks, because heavy snowfall during the ongoing federal government shutdown means funding to plow roads is nonexistent.
In a post on Twitter, Arches National Park said conditions were unsafe. Canyonlands National Park followed a short time later:
On Monday, the State of Utah's funding lapsed to keep Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks open during the ongoing government shutdown. The Utah Office of Tourism told FOX 13 it had no plans to keep the funding going.
"We think our efforts have helped to mitigate the potential downside of the shutdown," said Jay Kinghorn, the associate director for the office.
The Zion Forever Project, a nonprofit interpretive group, said it would keep funding the visitors center through Jan. 5. The Bryce Canyon Natural History Association agreed to keep funding the visitors center and custodial services through Jan. 10.
Because Arches has much lower visitation this time of year, the decision was made to close the center, Kinghorn said. The National Park Service made a separate decision to close the Moab-area parks because of weather.
"Trails and roads continue to be open but there will be very limited or nonexistent ranger services," he said.
As the parks continue to limp along, businesses in surrounding communities say they're taking a hit because of the shutdown.
"Our business is entirely dependent on the National Park," said Lance Syrett, hotel general manager for Best Western Plus Ruby's Inn, outside of Bryce Canyon. "People don’t come to Ruby’s Inn for any other reason than we are right on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park."
He suggested that up to a third of their business is impacted, because locals in Utah and Nevada aren't making trips to the national parks during the shutdown.
"The main problem we’re experiencing is, a lot of last-minute traffic just staying home-- that last 20 to 30 percent of your bookings, which are last-minute within 48 hours, 72 hours," Syrett explained. "They’re just staying home. We’re just not seeing them."
About 55-percent of the hotel's business, he said, comes from international customers. Those guests are unlikely to cancel plans even if Bryce Canyon isn't operating up to normal standards, he indicated.
If the parks don't open up soon, he said they'll have to start looking at the long term plan and make some "hard decisions." Syrett said he's talked with other hotels, restaurants and guides near Ruby's Inn, and they are in the same boat.
“This is a big deal for our area," he said. "It's affecting the entire economy of our little communities."
The state was spending about $10,000 a day to fund visitors centers and custodial services. The Utah Office of Tourism said it has heard from Moab, Springdale and communities around Bryce Canyon that the visitation was still high despite the shutdown.