zion national park shut down
Photo by Dan Mabbutt

Just two years ago, Utah national parks and monuments were faced with the equivalent of a strike when the federal government shut down because the members of Congress couldn’t agree on a budget. The 2013 shutdown lasted for 16 days and caused Zion National Park, the main tourist attraction in Washington County, to shut down. On Thursday, Oct. 1, the same thing could potentially happen again for the same reason.

The looming shutdown has already claimed a victim in Congress with the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, announced on the morning of Friday, Sept. 25.

The Washington Post has a webpage tallying expert opinion on the likelihood of a shutdown. Before Boehner’s announcement, they rated the likelihood as “very likely,” with most of their experts giving a shutdown a probability of 50 to 75 percent. Boehner’s announcement changed their rating to “not very likely.”

In 2013, local officials thought the damage to our tourism based economy would be so serious that they planned extraordinary action to open up Zion National Park again. Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said then that the County had the support of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for the state to take action to open Zion National Park without federal permission. While that didn’t happen, on the day of the shutdown, a Zion National Park law enforcement officer read a statement on the other side of a locked gate to a waiting group of people and then stood at one side while they climbed over the gate and entered the park illegally.

Mike Marriott, manager of the Switchback Grill and Trading Company and Jack’s Sports Grill, was quoted in 2013 as saying, “We lost some coach business which accounts for a significant amount of business, and if the shutdown continues, we’ll continue to see many of our larger groups cancel.”

Springdale Mayor Stan Smith recently told The Independent he is not looking forward to the possibility of another shutdown.

“It was rough last time and it will be rough again this time,” Smith said.

Smith said he did not agree with even trying to open Zion National Park without the cooperation and agreement of park officials. He said that Washington County has a lot more for visitors than just Zion, mentioning Snow Canyon State Park and mountain biking on Gooseberry Mesa. Smith said that in 2013, a schedule of alternate activities was created, and he anticipated that if a shutdown occurred again, similar actions would be taken.

In Congress, Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse over the budget, and despite Boehner’s resignation, there is still a chance the government could see another shutdown. The current budget established one year ago was a stop-gap measure, a “continuing resolution” and did nothing more than keep federal operations going at the current spending levels for one more year.