LOS ANGELES: The Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon are to reopen despite the United States (US) government shutdown, with US states temporarily paying the running costs of world-famous landmarks shuttered by the standoff.
Mount Rushmore, Rocky Mountain National Park and eight federal sites in Utah will also reopen starting this weekend, officials said on Friday (Saturday in Manila), although other world-famous destinations including Yosemite National Park and Alcatraz prison remain closed.
The federal National Park Service announced deals with the states of New York, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and South Dakota, under which the states agree to fund the sites which draw millions of tourists and in many cases keep local economies afloat.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer hailed the deal to reopen the Grand Canyon ahead of a three-day public holiday weekend.
“With a long weekend in front of us, I am thrilled Grand Canyon will be open and fully operational,” she said.
This was important “not only for our national and global travelers who have long awaited to experience one of the world’s seven natural wonders, but for the nearby businesses and communities whose livelihood depends” on tourism, she added.
More than 400 federally managed tourist sites across the nation have been closed since the shutdown started at the start of October due to a budget impasse between Republicans and Democrats.
The stalemate is costing $152 million a day in lost travel-related activity, affecting up to 450,000 American workers, according to the US Travel Association. Some 20,000 park services employees were furloughed.
Friday’s New York agreement will allow funding for the Statue of Liberty for six days, beginning Saturday through October 17, with the state donating $369,300 to keep it running.
Arizona has agreed to fund the Grand Canyon, visited by millions of tourists from all over the world every year, for seven days beginning Saturday, at a cost of $651,000.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park will be funded for 10 days beginning Friday at a cost of $362,700, and eight national parks and monuments in Utah will reopen also for 10 days beginning Friday at a cost of $1.666 million to the western US state.
South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard hailed the deal to reopen Mount Rushmore, a famous mountain face carved with four enormous busts of US presidents.
“Visitors from around the world come to the Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, and I’m pleased that our nation’s shrine to democracy will be reopened,” he said.
There is no guarantee that the states will be reimbursed by federal authorities when the shutdown ends. The funding is considered a donation, not a loan, and it would require an act of Congress to authorize any type of reimbursement, according to an official source.
But California, America’s most populous state and home to world-famous federally-run tourist attractions including Yosemite and the Alcatraz Island prison, has indicated it is too cash-strapped.
The US Travel Association sent a letter to the White House and Congress on Friday, urging them to work harder to resolve the budget standoff.
“The government shutdown is throttling America’s travel sector, which, until now, has been one of the principal drivers of US economic recovery,” said its president, Roger Dow.
“Every day the government remains closed compounds the very real consequences,” he added.