Thursday, October 10, 2013

An act of civil disobedience in southern Utah: Re-opening national parks by force?

See NPR's coverage here of the decision by nonmetropolitan San Juan County, in far southeastern Utah (one of the four corners of the "four corners" attraction), to storm the national parks and monuments there in order to open them to tourists.  The parks have been closed for 10 days now due to the federal government shut down, and it is starving local businesses.  I had heard a report earlier yesterday about four counties in southern Utah lobbying the government to permit them to operate the parks, but this news of the planned "civil disobedience" in San Juan County was late breaking after the county's commissioners held an emergency meeting on Wednesday.  Here are some excerpts from Howard Berkes's story.
[T]he San Juan County Commission has also decided to storm National Park Service barricades, take control of some parks, and reopen them to the public.
* * * 
The commissioners had decided to take down the barricades at Natural Bridges National Monument as early as Thursday morning but put off that move to give Utah Governor Gary Herbert time to discuss the issue with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
San Juan County is also home to "Hovenweep and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments, the Island in the Sky and Needles Districts of Canyonlands National Park and the Hite Marina inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area."

Berkes quotes Phil Lyman, a county commissioner from Monticello, Utah, the county seat:
This is civil disobedience.  What's happening to us is wrong.  ...  The decision has been made.  But decisions change.
That last comment seems to suggest that the commissioners hope they won't have to take this action.  If they do, Berkes notes, it would involve some 60 county employees, including Sheriff's deputies, search and rescue volunteers, firefighters, EMT's", and it would also involve "portable toilets, garbage trucks and three mobile command centers."

San Juan County, Berkes notes, is the size of Connecticut and Delaware combined. Its population is 14,476, and I could tell you its population density, poverty rate, and a whole lot more were it not for the government shutdown, which means no access to Census Bureau data.  Here's an earlier post (with photos!) from Bluff, Utah, a small town in San Juan County that seemed highly dependent on tourism when I was there five years ago this month.

P.S. San Juan County had a not insignificant population of American Indians, as I recall, and it is just over the Arizona state line from Monument Valley. This NPR story, on Oct. 11, highlights how Indian tribes are attracting more tourists to sites they own amidst the federal closure of national parks.  

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