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2:02 PM Wed, Oct. 17th

Arizona officials guarantee Grand Canyon won't close if U.S. government shuts down

The Grand Canyon (Francisco Morais, Unsplash)

The Grand Canyon (Francisco Morais, Unsplash)

PHOENIX – Arizona officials on Friday guaranteed that Grand Canyon National Park will remain in full operation if Congress fails to pass a budget and a government shutdown ensues.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the state’s top tourist attraction “will not close on our watch, period.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak says the state's parks and tourism agencies plan to provide up to $100,000 to ensure lodging, campgrounds and restaurants remain open, and more funding if needed.

The state agencies have been working with the National Park Service to plan for a possible shutdown as early as Saturday if Congress fails to pass a government funding bill. The House passed a temporary government funding bill Thursday night, but the Senate was deadlocked.

President Donald Trump and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met Friday afternoon in an eleventh-hour effort to avert a shutdown. The impasse is over federal spending and legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

"If Washington, D.C. won't function, Arizona will," Ducey said in a statement. "Don't change your travel plans, because Arizona is open for business – regardless of what happens back in Congress."

The U.S. Interior Department said national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible if a shutdown happens. That's a change from previous shutdowns, when most parks were closed and became high-profile symbols of dysfunction.

But spokeswoman Heather Swift said services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds, full-service restrooms and concessions won't be operating in most locations.

Arizona's decision to guarantee funding to cover the cost of those services means they should operate at the Grand Canyon as normal if a shutdown occurs.

Arizona paid about $100,000 a day to cover the full cost of keeping the Grand Canyon open during the last shutdown in 2013 but was eventually reimbursed by the federal government. Former Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, worked to pay the National Park Service $651,000 to keep the popular tourist destination open for a week. That came after a shutdown that lasted more than a week.

Federal lawmakers reached an agreement on the budget before those seven days were up.

During a 1995 shutdown, Arizona's governor famously led a convoy of unarmed troops to the park's gate to demand it be opened.

They were met there by the park superintendent, who negotiated with then-Gov. Fife Symington, a Republican, for a partial reopening if the budget impasse continued.

The shutdown was briefly solved, but when the parks were again closed a month later, the state paid more than $17,000 a day to keep the road to the Grand Canyon Village and the Mather Point scenic viewpoint on the canyon's South Rim open.