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Gov. Polis’ order may keep Mesa Verde open in case of shutdown

Federal government may shut down Sunday, shuttering land management agencies
Mesa Verde National Park is likely to remain open even if the federal government runs out of money by Sunday after Gov. Jared Polis signed an order directing the state to keep its four national parks open. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

An executive order signed Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis directs the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to work with other state agencies to keep national parks and public lands open in the event of a federal government shutdown.

The National Park Service’s contingency plan, released Friday morning, calls for an orderly shutdown of the national parks in the 24 hours following the lapse of appropriations.

Mesa Verde, one of four national parks in Colorado, would likely be closed to the public were it not for the governor’s order.

The order states that DNR should prioritize continuation of services based on the number of annual visitors, meaning that Rocky Mountain National Park, which receives the most visitors of the four, would be the top priority. Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve both had about 500,000 visitors last year, while Black Canyon of the Gunnison would be lowest on the priority list.

“The closure of the national parks and other federal lands would hurt state and local economies, small businesses and park employees,” Polis said in a news release. “My action today will help ensure national parks and federal lands will remain open through a potential shutdown and protects Colorado from the damage closing the parks would have.”

If lawmakers in Washington do not reach a spending deal by midnight Saturday, the federal government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, leaving national parks closed and most federal employees furloughed. Some federal workers – including members of the military, emergency responders and air traffic controllers – would keep working without pay and would be compensated when the government reopened.

Polis joins the governors of Utah and Arizona, who have announced plans to keep their states’ national parks open through state spending as well.

Colorado has taken similar action before. The state coughed up $362,700 to reopen Rocky Mountain during the 2013 government shutdown.

When asked Friday, a DNR spokesman was unable to answer whether the state anticipates it will be reimbursed for any expenses incurred during a shutdown.

“We expect to be reimbursed, just as federal employees receive back pay during a shutdown, and we have communicated this to the Department of Interior,” Utah. Gov. Spencer Cox said this week, according to The Associated Press.

Kristy Sholly, Mesa Verde’s chief of interpretation and visitor services, said she and the rest of the park’s staff likely would be watching what happens Saturday night.

DNR staff had yet to develop a clear plan regarding the source of funding to keep the parks open as of Friday afternoon.

“Governor Polis is evaluating every way of reducing the impact a potential federal government shutdown would have on Coloradans and that includes keeping the National Parks open,” DNR said in an statement. “Governor Polis’ executive order directed DNR to work with (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) to develop a plan for continued operations and resource protection of our National Parks and select federal lands and to work with (Office of State Planning and Budgeting) to identify any potential funding needed, and potential sources of State funding for this purpose.”


This story will be updated as more details of the Department of Natural Resources’ plans emerge.

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