It was unclear Thursday morning how quickly the federal government will be able to reopen national parks, recreation areas and campgrounds and salvage precious October tourism spending, although 13 national parks and monuments had reopened as of Wednesday thanks to agreements between six states the U.S. Department of Interior.
Federal government employees were instructed to return to work Thursday morning after the House and Senate reached an agreement to avert a debt default and reopen the federal government through mid-January. The deal gives Congress until Dec. 13 to hammer out a budget agreement for the balance of fiscal 2013-14, meaning the acrimony could continue into the heart of the holiday spending period. Pundits said it’s highly unlikely Republicans and democrats will be able to agree on a budget that would end the sequester, which calls for an automatic 10 percent reduction across all aareas of federal spending.
While, the federal government told employees to return to work Thursday, a memo issued to its employees Wednesday night made no specific mention of reopening parks. The websites for the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wilife were back on line by the afternoon. The Associated Press reported late Wednesday that federal workers had reopened Yosemite National Park and that it concessionaires had reopened for business. Media reports have since indicated national parks opening in Hawaii and many other states.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park became the latest national park to reopen Wednesday after North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and two Tennessee counties agreed to pay expenses for operating the park for five days. Under the agreement, North Carolina will spend $75,000 and the state of Tennessee and two counties will allocate $305,000 to reopen the national park for five days during the peak fall tourism season. North Carolina’s funding comes directly from appropriated tourism advertising dollars.
Approximately 10 million people per year visit the park, four million of which enter through North Carolina.
Professor Steve Morse, director of Western Carolina University’s Hospitality and Tourism Program estimates nearly $1 million of consumer spending is lost in North Carolina each day the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed. His analysis also found the closure is potentially costing North Carolina workers $343,354 in lost wages per day. Morse calculates that North Carolina state government could be losing up to $50,776 a day in taxes and local government $28,679 per day in tax revenue.
Through the first 10 days of the partial federal shutdown, Morse estimates $33 million in lost visitor spending, $12 million in lost wages $2.8 million in lost state and local taxes. Of these impacts, approximately 30 percent occur in North Carolina.
Mount Rushmore National Park reopened Oct. 14 thanks to an agreement between the State of South Dakota and the DOI, while New York paid to reopen the Statue of Liberty National Monument from Oct. 12-17.