Updated: Colorado Follows Utah's Lead, Rocky Mountain National Park To Reopen Saturday
Editor's note: This updates with plans for reopening Rocky Mountain, possibility that Trail Ridge Road might not reopen due to heavy snows.
Colorado officials followed Utah's lead in working out an agreement Friday with the Interior Department that clears the way to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday.
Earlier Friday an official announcement came from Salt Lake City that Utah officials would put up $1.67 million to allow Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Zion national parks, as well as Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments, plus Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, to reopen for the next 10 days.
In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Interior officials said that with Rocky Mountain reopening Saturday, crews would head out to clear snow from Trail Ridge Road across the roof of the park so it could reopen to traffic.
However, park officials said later Friday that they weren't sure if the road, which goes above 12,000 feet in crossing the Continental Divide, would reopen this year.
"Trail Ridge Road is currently closed due to drifting snow (2 to 5 foot drifts), ice, high winds and below freezing temperatures. It is unknown if Trail Ridge Road will reopen again this season," said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. "Trail Ridge Road is not designed to be an all-season road with 11 miles above 11,500 feet. Last year, Trail Ridge Road officially closed for the season on October 17, but never reopened after October 11."
Ms. Patterson said the park staff would work this weekend to reopen the Bear Lake Road, Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and the section of Trail Ridge Road along the Kawuneeche Valley.
"These are all great areas for hiking and elk viewing," she said. "We are glad to be back at work – even for a few days – serving the American people and welcoming visitors to their national park!
News that the national park would reopen was no doubt welcoming to Estes Park, the eastern gateway to the national park, and surrounding Larimer County, which were pounded last month by torrential storms that washed out roads and washed away homes.
Under the plan to reopen Rocky Mountain, Colorado will "pay for the park to stay open as long as the federal government is shut down. It will cost $40,300 a day to pay for U.S. National Park Service employees to operate the park," the governor's office said in a release.
“This reopening is critical to ongoing recovery efforts after last month’s flooding,” Gov. Hickenlooper said. “Trail Ridge Road provides a vital access point to Estes Park. Plus, the reopening of the park will help businesses in the area that have suffered a one-two punch after the flooding and federal government shutdown.”
U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Congressional members from Colorado played important roles in helping to reopen the park. “We greatly appreciate all of the hard work by our congressional delegation and the Department of the Interior to help make this happen,” Gov. Hickenlooper said.
Sen. Udall applauded the agreement, but also took a shot at the partisan politics in Washington, D.C., that led to the closure of the National Park System.
"This ongoing government shutdown is hurting Colorado's middle-class families and businesses. The reopening of Rocky Mountain National Park is welcome news for flood victims and businesses in Estes Park, but it is not enough," Sen. Udall said in a release. "Colorado's national parks, monuments and other federal lands are the backbone of our economy and quality of life. The U.S. House of Representatives needs to end this shutdown and stop holding hostage the livelihood of Main Street businesses in places like Grand Junction, Gunnison, Cortez and Alamosa.
"I also have deep concerns about Colorado taxpayers and our cash-strapped state government footing the bill for Rocky Mountain National Park. It's time for one extreme faction in Congress to step up, stop undermining Colorado's economy and allow Congress to end this shutdown."
In Estes Park, Mayor Bill Pinkham said the park's closure "was a huge economic blow just as we were pulling together toward recovery (from the flooding)."
“We greatly appreciate the efforts of the governor and our congressional delegation who helped make this happen. This is a pivotal step in Estes Park’s quick and full recovery from this unprecedented disaster," the mayor said.
Colorado officials plan to initially use money from their tourism department to operate the park and will seek reimbursement from the federal government. Entrance fees will still be charged and collected and the park will be on normal operating hours.
The governor's office, however, made no comment on the status of Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or the other Park Service properties in Colorado.