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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Visitors mingled around Delicate Arch to watch the sunset in the newly reopened Arches National Park , Friday, October 11, 2014.Thanks to a $1.7 million payment from Utah taxpayers, the national parks of southern Utah are being exempted from the federal government shutdown just in time for a traditionally busy fall weekend.
Visitors head into newly opened Arches National Park for sunset views

Some national parks in Utah have a ‘‘soft opening’’ Friday, but full access is planned for Saturday.

First Published Oct 11 2013 10:28 am • Last Updated Mar 03 2014 10:34 am

Moab • For Michael Huot, Friday’s national parks reopening did not come soon enough to save his long-planned cycling trip on Canyonlands National Park’s White Rim Trail with 14 buddies.

But his crew had no complaints about the sunset view at Delicate Arch a few hours after rangers revoked the barricades at the entrance to Arches National Park that afternoon amid cheering motorists.

At a glance

Utah’s nationals parks reopening Friday, Saturday

Zion National Park

Opened early Friday. The park, which was already allowing drive-through traffic on State Road 9, removed cones on pullouts and let people start wandering trails. By early afternoon, the visitor center and first-come, first-serve South Campground were open. The park shuttles, Zion Lodge, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Watchman Campground are scheduled to open Saturday.

Arches National Park

Opened at about 5 p.m. Friday. Fully open Saturday.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Opened by 3 p.m. Friday.

Canyonlands National Park

Will open Saturday.

Capitol Reef National Park

Opened at 1 p.m. Friday.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Opened at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Opened Friday.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, including Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Scheduled to be partially open by 1 p.m. Friday and fully operational by 8 a.m. Saturday.

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"Props to the governor of Utah!" said Huot, an anesthesiologist from Rapid City, S.D., as the sandstone around him glowed orange under fading daylight and the snow-capped La Sals lit up in the distance.

A few hundred hikers made the 3-mile round trip trek from Wolfe Ranch to be among the first to visit the park since was closed along 11 days ago along with much of the federal government.

Visitors returned to the national parks in Utah on Friday to enjoy red rock views that some have waited a lifetime to see.

Zion National Park, Utah’s most visited, was the first to announce it was opening Friday. The park, which was already allowing drive-through traffic on State Road 9, removed cones on pullouts and let people start wandering trails.

By early afternoon, the visitor center and first-come, first-serve South Campground were open. The park shuttles, Zion Lodge, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Watchman Campground were scheduled to open Saturday.

Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks opened their toll booths for vehicle traffic Friday afternoon and were to be joined by Canyonlands National Park, in full operation mode, by Saturday morning.

Capitol Reef National Park and Natural Bridges and Cedar Break national monuments opened Friday with full operations. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area — including Rainbow Bridge National Monument — were to begin normal operations Saturday.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had $1.7 million wired to Washington, D.C., early Friday. Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, signed an agreement that will keep the parks, monuments and recreation area open for 10 days despite the government shutdown.

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The money for what Utah is calling a loan and the National Park Service is dubbing a donation came from funds appropriated to Utah State Parks by the Legislature in July.

"I’m not terribly worried," Utah State Parks director Fred Hayes said Friday. "I believe the Legislature and the governor will do their part to make sure we get the money back."

The Utah State Parks budget, including capital, is about $24 million.

"We believe this is a short-term loan that will be repaid to us via a special legislative session or during the general legislative session," Hayes said. "We have no reason to believe we won’t be made whole again."

It will take an act of Congress to approve repayment of the funds. The Utah Legislature, which will meet in special session Wednesday, could approve funds to keep the areas open beyond the initial 10 days.

In a statement, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the government shutdown impacted "too many businesses, rural communities and families who rely on them."

He added: "That’s why I’m working to get Utah its money back for loaning the Department of Interior the money to reopen the parks. Governor Herbert did the right thing, and Utah deserves to be repaid."

Developed campgrounds and facilities run by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are not covered by the agreement and will remain closed until the shutdown is over. Utah State Parks never closed.

On Friday morning in Springdale, hoteliers and waiters serving breakfast excitedly shared news of a partial reopening with their guests. By 10 a.m., a long line of cars had piled up outside the toll both at the entrance to Zion National Park.

Park rangers seemed to have little information — "It’s a free day," one woman said as she waved cars into the park — though they did hand out maps to visitors.

Aly Baltrus, a spokesperson at Zion, said entry was free Friday because the park was not completely open. Fees will return Saturday.

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