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Article published Oct 15, 2013

Rocky Mountain open; why not Mesa Verde?

Legislators to petition for state’s other parks
Photo by: Sam Green/Cortez Journal
Mesa Verde National Park remains off-limits to visitors because of the federal shutdown. Though the state is paying to keep Rocky Mountain National Park open, it has no plans to reopen Mesa Verde and other parks.

By Joe Hanel Herald staff writer

DENVER – Cash registers are ringing again at Grand Canyon National Park.

The sound of bugling elk is competing against the clicking of tourists’ camera shutters at Rocky Mountain National Park.

And despite a federal government shutdown, Utah’s national parks have all reopened, from Arches to Zion.

But the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are as quiet as the day before the Wetherills found them 125 years ago.

And that’s how it’s going to stay, until Congress ends the partial shutdown of government.

Governors won the right to reopen national parks in their states last week, if they paid for them. Colorado responded by reopening Rocky Mountain National Park, whose gateway community, Estes Park, is struggling to recover from flooding in September.

But the state has no plans to reopen Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes or Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, said Gov. John Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown.

“We are certainly sympathetic to every community impacted by the federal government shutdown. Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park are in a unique situation given the historic flooding last month and limited access to the area,” Brown said in an email.

Colorado is paying $40,300 a day to operate Rocky Mountain National Park, using funds from the Colorado Tourism Office. The state will ask the federal government to pay it back once the crisis in Congress passes.

Brown said the governor’s office has not received requests from Southwest Colorado officials to reopen Mesa Verde.

That’s about to change.

State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, plans to send a letter to Hickenlooper today asking him to reopen all of Colorado’s national parks.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and state Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, said they would sign the letter.

“The economic implications of closing Mesa Verde on Cortez, Mancos and Durango are probably similar to closing Rocky Mountain on Estes,” Roberts said.

Coram said he is sympathetic to Estes Park, but it isn’t the only town in Colorado with troubles.

“Our communities are affected just as much as them,” he said.

Coram’s district includes Rocky Mountain and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks. Just last week, a bus carrying 60 tourists from Japan was turned away from Black Canyon, he said.

The park has minimal facilities, and the canyon can be seen from roadside turnouts.

“There’s absolutely no reason at all in this being closed,” he said.

McLachlan thinks the real issue is that congressional Republicans never should have shut down the government at all. But he said he would sign Coram’s letter to Hickenlooper.

“I’m hoping by the time he gets a chance to read that letter, it will be open anyway,” McLachlan said.

Hickenlooper’s team is hoping the same thing.

“Like everyone, we want the federal government shutdown to end as quickly as possible,” Brown said.