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Sheriff Fights to Keep Park Open In Event of Govt Shutdown

Sheriff Fights to Keep Park Open In Event of Govt Shutdown

All signs well, at least his say go for Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who says his office would provide services to the eastern portion of Rocky Mountain National Park in the event of a shutdown. (Courtesy of Larimer County Sheriff's Office )

The Denver Post via YellowBrix

April 08, 2011

ROCKEY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, CO – In an unusual bit of political theater, new Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith vowed to ride to the rescue of Rocky Mountain National Park — and the small businesses that depend on it — should it close at midnight tonight with a federal government shutdown.

“My stance is we’ve got folks in Congress that are playing games with people’s lives,” Smith said. "When politicians say the parks are closed, what that truly does (is) it takes merchants in a little town like Estes Park and it kills their business.

“These are my constituents, and they’ve come through a tough recession. And for some game-playing in Washington, they’re shutting these people off; they’re killing them.”

Smith said that in the event of a shutdown, his office would provide law enforcement and emergency services to the eastern portion of the park that lies in Larimer County — a proposal that came as a surprise to the National Park Service.

It first learned of Smith’s plan through a news release accompanied by a photo of the sheriff posing in front of a park entrance, holding a sign that says, “Yes we’re open.”

But parks officials insist that if the shutdown happens, the park will close.

Most of the park, including Trail Ridge Road, has been under exclusive federal jurisdiction since the 1920s, said National Park Service spokesman Larry Frederick.

While the park enjoys a good relationship with sheriff’s offices in Boulder, Grand and Larimer counties, Smith’s plan just doesn’t fly, Frederick said.

Smith spoke with parks officials Thursday evening and said they had a “difference of opinions” with regard to jurisdiction.

He claimed the county had some limited jurisdiction and noted that the park routinely requests assistance from his office — and that he would work with Estes Park officials to provide staffing.

“Where this is going to go, I don’t know,” Smith said. “My hope is the folks in Washington get it together and do their job to pass a budget and quit holding local folks hostage.”

Smith said he sent the news release before talking to parks officials because “it was just a matter of sending the message that we’re here to help.”

An average of about 75,000 visitors stream through the park each April.

If the park closes because of the federal government’s failure to enact an appropriations bill, the Park Service will retain some of its roughly 200 permanent employees.

“We will have limited staff assigned to the park,” Frederick said, “including our law enforcement rangers, who’ll be on duty to provide protection for life (and) property and provide any emergency services needed.”

He noted that during the last government shutdown, for six days in November 1995, the governor of Arizona proposed keeping Grand Canyon National Park open by employing the National Guard.

That effort failed.

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