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Deals struck to reopen Grand Canyon and other iconic U.S. sites

By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Three of the most famous U.S. National Parks - the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty - will reopen in the coming days after state governors reached deals despite an ongoing government shutdown.

The governors of Arizona, New York and South Dakota said in separate statements on Friday that they had reached agreements with the federal government to reopen their respective parks between Saturday and Monday.

The emblematic parks are among 401 National Park Service attractions across the United States that shut their gates to fee-paying visitors on October 1 after the U.S. Congress and the White House failed to reach agreement on raising the nation's debt limit.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said the Grand Canyon, which draws nearly 5 million visitors a year, would reopen on Saturday after she reached a deal with the federal government to pay the National Park Service $651,000 to resume operations for seven days, using state and other monies.

"With a long weekend in front of us, I am thrilled Grand Canyon will be open and fully operational," Brewer said in a statement, referring to the upcoming Columbus Day weekend.

"While this deal will buy us some time and bring back lost revenue to the state, I would hope our elected officials in Washington move urgently to negotiate an immediate end to this government standstill," she added.

The national parks attract some 280 million visitors a year. More than 7 million Americans were kept out of the parks over the first 10 days of the shutdown and $750 million in visitor spending was lost, according to estimates by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

President Barack Obama and congressional Republican leaders inched toward resolving their fiscal impasse on Friday, but struggled to agree on the length and terms of a short-term deal to increase the U.S. debt limit and reopen the government.

As the crisis dragged on, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state had agreed to fund the National Park Service to reopen Liberty Island National Park this weekend and to keep it open during the shutdown at a cost of $61,600 per day.

"The Statue of Liberty is one of this country's most recognizable landmarks, attracting millions of visitors to the state every year, and its closure these last 11 days has had a terrible impact on the local economy and tourism industry," Cuomo said in a statement.

"A BIG RELIEF"

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard said he had reached an agreement with the National Park Service to reopen the Mount Rushmore monument honoring U.S. presidents on Monday morning using private donations.

The park service is going to charge South Dakota $15,200 per day to operate the monument, he said in a statement.

In northern Arizona, where the Grand Canyon National Park's closure led some furloughed workers to turn to food bank handouts to get by, news that it would reopen was welcomed late on Friday.

"It's a big relief," said Jenifer Bakki, who works at the Grand Canyon Squire Inn a couple of miles from the park's entrance, which went from full capacity to less than half full following the shutdown. "Ever since the park closed we have slowed down," she said.

Arizona, New York and South Dakota are not alone in reaching piecemeal agreements with the government to reopen National Parks.

On Friday, Colorado, which was hit by devastating floods in September that killed at least eight people, announced it had reached a deal to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver from Saturday.

"This reopening is critical to ongoing recovery efforts after last month's flooding," Governor John Hickenlooper said. The reopening "will help businesses in the area that have suffered a one-two punch after the flooding and federal government shutdown," he added.

Colorado will provide $40,300 a day to pay park employees, and will seek reimbursement from the federal government down the road, Hickenlooper said.

Meanwhile, Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced late on Thursday that his state would pay up to $1.67 million to the government to allow visitors to return to its five national parks, the Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The governor said the parks should be fully open by Saturday. The money would keep the parks open for up to 10 days, and the state could make additional payments to have them open longer.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by; David Bailey in Minneapolis, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Keith Coffman in Denver and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, David Brunnstrom and Lisa Shumaker)

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