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Some states could take over operation of national parks

Friday - 10/11/2013, 6:07pm  ET

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Skyline Drive, part of the Shenandoah National Park, is closed during the government shutdown. (FILE/WTOP/Hank Silverberg)
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WASHINGTON - Closed national parks and monuments are one of the most visible signs of the government shutdown. They've also been the subject of many prostests.

But an offer to let states operate them temporarily is not as easy as it sounds.

The Interior Department says several western states that have asked to operate national parks within their borders, and are willing to pay for it, will be allowed. But it may not work across the country in many of the 401 national parks that have been temporarily shut down -- from Lady Liberty in New York harbor to Yosemite in California.

"It's more than just opening a gate and letting everyone in," says Neil Muholland, president of the National Parks Foundation, a charity that raises money for national parks.

"It's truly not feasible for a third party to come in and take over the operations of what the National Park Service does," Muholland says.

He says the states may not have the expertise to do the jobs such as rescue and recovery operations, fire personnel, law enforcement and maintenance.

Muholland says the closed national parks are losing an estimated $76 million a day in revenue. Much of that would go to the parks' upkeep or to businesses in the local communities.

He says private vendors who operate within national parks like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia are losing $5 million a day and have had to lay off workers.

Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would accept the federal offer to reopen Utah's five national parks.

Utah would have to use its own money to staff the parks, and it will cost $50,000 a day to operate just one of them, Zion National Park, said Herbert's deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom.

In the national capital region where the national parks include the urban settings like National Mall in D.C. and wilderness like the 280,000-acre Shenandoah National Park, it would be more difficult.

A spokesman for Virginia's governor says only that they are evaluating the issue.

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