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At Montezuma Castle, closed gate disappoints visitors, worries businesses

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CAMP VERDE – Visiting Arizona from Fort Worth, Texas, Terry Labansat drove here from Flagstaff first thing Tuesday to see the cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument. But all he found was a locked gate.

“It’s definitely a concern,” he said. “I mean you fly out to the area hoping to see some different things, be able to participate in the things that are offered here.”

A dozen other cars drove up only to turn back shortly after Montezuma Castle was scheduled to open at 8 a.m.

“It’s not exactly what I had in my plan,” Labansat said. “From a recreational standpoint, it’s not the worst thing that could happen to a person.”

Dorothy FireCloud, superintendent of Montezuma Castle National Monument, Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot National Monument, spent Tuesday morning preparing to have the facilities closed for an undetermined length of time due to the partial federal government shutdown. Thirty-nine people work at the sites, she said.

“We’ve been threatened with a shutdown, not having a budget, for three times in the past two years,” she said. “So we’ve been on notice, and we’ve had all of our procedures in place for quite some time.”

There are 22 National Park Service sites in Arizona, drawing nearly 10 million visitors in 2012.

About 1,000 people visit Montezuma Castle per day, FireCloud said, while about 200 visit Tuzigoot daily.

The partial government shutdown that closed national parks and monuments around the country was no small concern in the Verde Valley, where many businesses rely on tourists and their wallets.

Robert F. Jackson Sr., vice chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, worried that the shutdown not just of the Verde Valley parks but others in northern Arizona would cut down on visitors to the tribe’s Cliff Castle Casino.

“They eat in our restaurants, they stay in our lodge, they buy our gas, and we depend a lot on that,” he said.