Heavy snowfall, in combination with the ongoing government shutdown, has closed Arches and Canyonlands national parks for the foreseeable future. On Dec. 31, the National Park Service announced it would be closing the parks because there is no funding to plow the roads.
The road into Arches remains open to the visitor center, at which point a closed gate prevents further travel by vehicle. People have still been able to travel into the park on foot.
The State of Utah had stepped forward to provide funding to keep basic services running at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion, but on Monday that funding lapsed. FOX 13 reported that the Utah Office of Tourism said it has no plans to keep the funding going.
The NPS posted on the Arches website, “It is unknown when the road will open. Access to the park will not occur until conditions improve or the National Park Service receives funding to maintain the roads.” An identical message was posted on the Canyonlands website as well. The NPS warned visitors that while parks may be accessible, there will be no staff to “provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response.” It added, “Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.”
At Bryce Canyon and Zion, nonprofit groups have taken on the financial burden of keeping the parks staffed for the time being. The Zion Forever Project said it will keep funding the visitor center until Jan 5. The Bryce Canyon Natural History Association agreed to fund the visitor center and custodial services until Jan. 10.
No such group stepped forward to keep Arches open. Jay Kinghorn, associate director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said Arches has lower visitation this time of year than Zion and Bryce, so the decision was made to close its visitor center. The NPS made a separate decision to close both Moab-area parks due to weather.
While some updates were posted to the Arches website and social media accounts, The Salt Lake Tribune reported those are not being monitored or regularly updated, so they might not have the most up-to-date information.
As the partial government shutdown drags through its second week with no resolution in sight, many are worried about the impacts the shutdown will have on the parks. Since contingency plans are keeping many parks open without more than basic law enforcement on staff, visitors to America’s parks and monuments are finding overflowing trash cans and locked restrooms. No entrance fees are being collected.
Joette Langianese, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Arches and Canyonlands group, told The Salt Lake Tribune that she thinks the NPS made the right decision to close Arches and Canyonlands. Arches is accessed by steep, switch-backing roads made far more dangerous by the wintery conditions.
“You can’t get up that hill even with four-wheel drive. The issue is more than just plowing,” Langianese said. “We got six inches [in Moab], and Arches is a higher elevation. Plowing would be a continuous process. There are general safety issues with snow on trails. It opens more and more doors where staffing is needed.”
CNN reported that House Democrats will vote on a proposal to reopen the government on Thursday, soon after the party takes control of the House of Representatives. The bipartisan package includes six Senate spending bills and a stopgap measure to re-open the Department of Homeland Security at its current funding levels until Feb. 8. The measure also maintains the current $1.3 billion in border security money without adding $5 billion for a border wall.
However, it is still unlikely that measure will reopen the government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not move forward on any legislation until President Trump signs off on it and Trump has not wavered in his demand for border wall funding.