As you have likely already heard, today a number of U.S. National Parks unexpectedly reopened. What you likely have not heard is the true story about why the U.S. Department of Interior suddenly changed its mind and decided to let individual states finance reopening the National Parks after having initially refused to do so.
In my mundane job as a tour director, today I was on tour in Kanab, Utah and read a fascinating article in a local newspaper. Even better, I later had the opportunity to discuss the matter and confirm the story with a Deputy of the Kane County Sheriff's Department.
I doubt you will hear this on CNN any time soon, but here is what REALLY happened:
Early in the week, the town of Tusayan, AZ raised over a quarter of a million dollars and offered the U.S. Department of the Interior to fund locally the reopening of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Showing great inflexibility, the Department of Interior turned the offer down flat!
Immediately following the refusal of Tusayan's offer, however, five counties in Utah declared a State of Emergency. San Juan county, Utah, went even further, deciding to take matters into its own hands.
County Commissioner, Phil Lyman, instructed San Juan County Sheriff, Rick Eldredge, to raise a posse to forcibly remove all barricades blocking National Parks in San Juan county. Sheriff Eldredge raised the citizens' posse, then threatened to deputize them all and send in the posse to remove the barricades - and to arrest anyone who tried to stop them.
Sheriff Eldredge next entered into intense communications with County Sheriffs of the other four Utah counties severely affected by the closure of Utah's National Parks.
Rumors abounded that the other four County Sheriffs would also raise posses to forcibly remove the barricades from National Parks within their counties.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, faced with a serious possibility of a major confrontation between armed National Park Service Rangers and armed Deputies of County Sheriff's Posses intent on removing barricades, suddenly decided that it might not be such a bad idea after all to accept offers from states wishing to pay expenses to reopen National Parks within their state boundaries.
All of this, of course, will likely never show up on the national news. I only know so much about what really happened because I am on tour in Utah, ask a lot of questions, and managed to confirm the story with a Kane County Sheriff's Deputy this morning.
Those of us who work in the visit USA tour and travel industry, as well as those of us who visited newly reopened National Parks today - each owe a debt of gratitude to Utah's San Juan County Sheriff, Rick Eldredge, and to the courageous citizens of the of San Juan County Sheriff's Posse, who were ready to risk life and limb to face down armed U.S. Rangers to remove barricades blocking entrances to Utah's National Parks.
Clearly, the spirit of the Old West is still alive and well in Utah!