Grand Canyon community comes together in face of shutdown

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — A government shutdown over the weekend of Jan. 19 - 23 may have rattled some business owners in communities near national parks, but the Grand Canyon community fended off potential setbacks and saw little disruption to business as usual.

After failing to agree on a spending bill by midnight Jan. 19, the U.S. government officially shut down, leaving most federal offices across the country closed through the weekend and most of the day Monday. The postal service, which is funded separately, remained open, but many national parks and forests nationwide did not.

The Grand Canyon was a notable exception.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona legislature authorized funds in the amount of nearly $200,000 to keep the park open through the weekend, meaning guests who had been planning a trip to the park were able to keep their reservations. All concessions and hotels inside the park remained open, and essential services like restrooms, law enforcement and trash pickup were fully operational.

Other services, like entrance gates, the Visitor Center, and park headquarters, were shuttered.

Over the course of the weekend from Jan. 20-22, 5,713 vehicles came into the park via the Desert View and South entrance gates — without paying any fees. The average January visitation is about 7,000 guests per day. Over the shutdown weekend, there were more than double that number at an estimated 15,293 guests.

Chief Ranger Matt Vandzura said that while services were open, guests missed being welcomed to the park by rangers, as well as being able to take advantage of the educational opportunities they provide.

“Collecting entrance fees is the smallest part of the work done by our rangers at the gates,” Vandzura said. “Creating a sense of arrival, that inspires our visitors to enjoy the Canyon in a respectful way, was lost during the shutdown.”

While guests may have lost out on some important elements of the park, local business owners said nothing was amiss during the weekend.

Bruce Brossman, marketing director for the Grand Canyon Park Lodges and Grand Canyon Railway, said neither the hotels nor the railway experienced any negative impacts from the short shutdown.

“We remained open and in full operation,” he said, adding that, with another potential shutdown on the horizon, the company will cross that bridge when it comes to it.

In Tusayan, where the majority of residents depend on Grand Canyon tourism for their livelihoods, local residents and business owners remain optimistic. Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce Manager Laura Chastain said the community fared well in the face of the shutdown.

“With so much support from the Governor’s office, ADOT with signage saying we were open the general consensus of the businesses is things went well,” she said.

With the possibility of another shutdown looming, however, Chastain said she wants to get the word out to potential visitors that both Tusayan and the Grand Canyon are open for business.

“I was fielding phone calls from guests from out of the area worried about future travel dates,” she said. “So while the message was strong locally, I’m not sure how strong it was throughout the country that the state of Arizona was proud to support the Grand Canyon during the shutdown to keep this national treasure open.  There could be future impacts over the next several weeks.”

Eric Duthie, Tusayan town manager, said the town and its residents were grateful for the state of Arizona providing funds to keep the park operational — something the town was prepared to do if state funding didn’t come through.

In the event of a shutdown without state funding, Duthie said the town had authorized funds to pay for essential services, including NPS trash pickup, restroom maintenance and road plowing in the event of snow.

“We’re really grateful that Gov. Ducey was willing to step up and keep the park open and fully operational,” he said. “It took a tremendous weight off the town and the local businesses.”

Both Duthie and Vandzura applauded both the willingness of the park and the community to come together to minimize the impact of what could have been a devastating blow.

"Our community really pulled together,” Vandzura said. “Leaders in Tusayan were offering cash donations on the first conference calls. The Community Church was working to arrange a delivery from St Mary’s Food Bank for later in the month, before the shutdown happened.  Facilities folks from Delaware North and Xanterra were plowing residential streets on Saturday morning.  The Sports Booster Club, and many individuals, brought food to the employees who were working without guarantee of pay.”

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