Frustration with the partial federal shutdown literally spilled over the gates of Zion National Park on Saturday morning, with 15 protesters entering despite rangers’ objections.
James Milligan, manager of Springdale’s Zion Outfitter store, helped organize "Occupy Zion" as part of a broader social media effort dubbed "Occupy National Parks" on Facebook and #breakthebarrier on Twitter. The goal was simply to let Uncle Sam know what he thinks of the shutdown.
"Obviously, I’m not too happy about it," Milligan said. "This shop is my livelihood here, and I haven’t had a customer in a week. Rangers will get their backpay, but what will people in these communities get?"
Of Milligan’s more than 3,600 invitations, just 112 were accepted, and many fewer — Milligan says 25-30, the park says exactly 15 — actually crossed the fence. But even that was dandy, he said.
"I was expecting to go hiking by myself."
Rangers took photos of the trespassers, advised that they may be cited and warned them against doing any damage inside the park.
Milligan said his crew walked about 2 miles up the Pa’rus Trail to the entrance of the main canyon, then turned back. All together, it took between an hour and a half and two hours, and they filled a garbage bag with the trash they picked up along the way.
Zion spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said she sympathizes with the frustration, and nobody wants the parks to open more than the staff, but she wishes protesters would write their congressmen instead. The park would typically employ about 250 on a given day this time of year. Right now, it’s about 10 — and only four in law enforcement.
Attempts to enter the park "are extremely taxing on us," Baltrus said. "We just don’t have the staff. I really hope it doesn’t become a trend."
While Milligan said he’s observed "hundreds" of people jumping the fence to enter the park each day, Baltrus doesn’t agree that it is happening frequently. A more salient problem, she said, is drivers on Mount Carmel Highway getting out of their cars and receiving warnings and citations from law enforcement.
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