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Grand Canyon

Interior rejects proposal to open Grand Canyon

November 17, 1995
Web posted at: 11 p.m. EST

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Arizona (CNN) -- The Interior Department has nixed a proposal by Arizona Gov. Fife Symington to allow the National Guard to open and run the Grand Canyon National Park.

"There's no economic reason to close the park," Symington, a conservative Republican, complained hours later. "I think we're just a political pawn in this budget struggle."

The decision was announced Friday afternoon as the governor arrived for a meeting with the superintendent of the state parks. Interior Department spokesman Paul Bledsoe said the governor received a letter outlining the legal, practical and safety reasons why the National Guard should not open the park.

It said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt "has the statutory responsibility for ensuring that the Parks are operating in a safe and sound manner, consistent with federal law and regulations, and to manage their resources in such a way as to preserve them for future generations."

Symington had offered to use part of the park's entrance fees to offset the costs of running the park, and proposed that the state pay some of the salaries of the federal employees, but the Interior Department's lawyers said there are other costs not covered by his offer, such as power, water, sewer, maintenance and liability expenses.

national park

"We are in uncharted territory here, and cannot proceed lightly," the letter said.

In an appearance on CNN, Symington said his office was still negotiating with the Interior Department and was optimistic the park would be opened.

About 50 unarmed National Guard troops arrived outside the park's main gate at midday Friday, prepared to provide guest services and basic security. Workers from other state agencies were also there to help.

The governor's communications director, Doug Cole, said the closure of the park had already hurt the region's economy.

David Barna, chief of public affairs for the National Parks Service, criticized Symington's proposal, saying he feared it could snowball and lead other local governments to follow suit.

He said the remaining employees of the National Parks Service are nothing more than security personnel now. "There are less than 2,000 employees now, all who are standing by the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and other sites, not allowing anyone to enter and making sure nothing catches on fire," Barna said.

He also confirmed that all 369 national parks across the country were completely shut down and will not re-open unless the Parks Services gets some kind of appropriation.

"What we need is a national solution," Barna said. "Let's get an appropriations bill so we can get everybody working."

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