With one of Utah’s most popular family getaway weekends approaching fast, some who thought the federal government shutdown would have ended by now are starting to wonder if they need to change their plans.
The annual Utah Education Association (UEA) fall break is Oct. 17 and 18, creating a four-day weekend for schoolchildren. But the national parks — common UEA weekend destinations — are closed, developed facilities on all federal lands are gated and Utah State Parks are mostly booked for camping.
What’s a Utah family to do? It seems likely that the already large exodus to Southern California, especially Disneyland, during UEA is going to grow.
Jeanie Resetarits, of Salt Lake City, has plans for a multiple-day backpacking trip in the Grand Gulch area managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). She has a permit, but isn’t sure if she can still make the trip.
“I tried to contact the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and went on the website, but all that comes up is the government is closed,” Resetarits said. “I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
Even if the shutdown ends, how long will it take for Utah’s five national parks and the other National Park Service units to reopen to the public?
Paul Henderson, the assistant superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments in southeastern Utah, says his parks will open the next business day after the shutdown ends.
People who made reservations for federally managed campgrounds might be wondering what will happen if the shutdown hasn’t ended before their stay.
A message on the www.recreation.gov website says the site is not available during the “lapse in funding for the federal government” and that reservations “either partially or fully impacted by facility closures” will automatically be cancelled and a full refund will be issued.
Of course, people trying to make reservations for future trips are also out of luck.
Families should not expect to find camping spots on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the BLM when considering a change of plans. All developed campgrounds and facilities from both agencies are closed. Dispersed camping is allowed, but the woods might be crowded. The general season deer hunt opens Oct. 19 and more than 70,000 hunters are expected to take part.
Utah State Parks campgrounds, yurts and cabins remain open, but have few openings during the UEA time frame.
“Most of the parks were already booked before the shutdown, so now it’s a matter of trying to accommodate people,” said Emily Debois, the reservations manager for Utah State Parks.
The Salt Lake office for state parks has been averaging dozens of calls a day ever since the shutdown as international tourists and locals try to figure out alternatives for trips they had planned.
Most southern Utah parks are booked Oct. 17-19. Some parks in central and northern Utah have spots, but many are set up on a first-come, first-serve basis.
People who had planned a trip to Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are out of luck unless the shutdown ends. Glen Canyon, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument within the national recreation area, are operated by the National Park Service. As a result, the entire 1,800 miles of shoreline and surrounding landscape are closed.
Resetarits isn’t too worried about her plans in Grand Gulch. She knows plenty of other places she can visit that do not require a permit, but she feels for people who don’t have her experience.
“I’ve lived here a long time and we have explored a lot,” Resetarits said. “I totally appreciate that some people don’t have that experience and this has messed up their plans.”