Updated Oct 14, 2013 - 9:59 am
National monument closing hits town near Phoenix hard
COOLIDGE, Ariz. -- The Grand Canyon is open again, thanks to Arizona stepping up to cover the costs of operating the national park.
But the deal doesn't include national monuments in the state, and towns near those monuments are feeling the strain of the closure.
One of them is the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge. The site draws about 200 visitors a day to the town, located about 55 miles south of Phoenix. That works out to over 71,000 tourists a year.
The main gate is on Arizona Avenue, the main street of Coolidge. While the Walmart across the street is bustling with shoppers, the road that leads to the ruins about a quarter-mile away is deserted. The gate is locked, with a sign in front that read the park is closed because of the federal shutdown.
Despite the news that national monuments like this are closed, there are still people hoping to get in. A couple from the Netherlands drove up, the goal of their trip to see national attractions that many tourists don't know about.
"I like to see the national parks that are not on the top ten list," Joe Dorschahaedt said. "One time when we were in Flagstaff, we visited Walnut Canyon. It wasn't on the top 10 list but it was a beautiful national park." (Walnut Canyon is a national monument, not a national park.)
Dorschahaedt said the closure of the parks is leaving a lot of tourists angry and discouraged. "European people are very disappointed now," he said.
Dorschahaedt is an example of how the closure is hurting Coolidge's economy. He estimated that he and his wife would have spent about $100 on souvenirs at the monument, and would have had lunch in Coolidge. Instead, they turned their rental car around and headed back toward Phoenix.
Coolidge Mayor Tom Shope said that the closing of the ruins has had an effect on his town. "Where you feel it mostly is in the retail stores themselves," said Shope, who is one of those retailers.
In addition to being mayor, he owns an IGA supermarket. "The longer this goes on, that's less and less sales that retailers have," Shope said.
"That means that, eventually, the retailers will have to make a decision: Do I need this extra employee or not? When you lose employees, and they're not working, that's not good for anybody."
Shope is also concerned for the 14 National Park Service employees who work at the Casa Grande Ruins. They haven't had a paycheck for two weeks.
Coolidge resident Corrie Lee also said her town is hurting because of the closure. "A lot of times when people come to the ruins, they eat in our city and they visit our stores," she said. "We know it's hitting everybody locally."
Shope had a message for the members of Congress.
"Get together and work something out," Shope said. "Don't be so rigid in your political philosophies that you can't sit down and talk to the person across the aisle. I believe more in compromise than I suppose a lot of people do, and I believe that there's got to be a way to make this work out."
People in Coolidge are hoping that something can be done, soon, to get the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument reopened.
Bob McClay, Reporter