The Shutdown And National Parks

Jan 20, 2018
Originally published on January 21, 2018 6:02 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Federal government is in partial shutdown after Congress failed to reach an agreement to pass a spending bill. Members of the military and law enforcement will continue to work without pay, but Americans may not notice the effects of the shutdown until Monday, when most federal workers would be back at work. One exception is at national parks. NPR's Jeff Brady is in downtown Philadelphia at Independence National Historical Park.

They were supposed to be open this morning. Right, Jeff?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Yes, it was supposed to be open. I'm outside the building that houses the Liberty Bell, and the doors are locked. There's some gates up outside, and there's a guard out front. On the door, there's a little sign. You can just barely read it. But it says that the building is going to be closed today because of the partial government shutdown. And all morning, there have been a lot of disappointed tourists sort of milling around, bugging the guard, asking him why the buildings are closed.

And among those disappointed tourists was 9-year-old Emma Bridges of Bethesda, Md. She's in town with her family to celebrate her dad's birthday. And she was able to see the Liberty Bell through a window but couldn't get inside to see it close up. She was pretty disappointed, but she also had a pretty good understanding of why this is happening.

EMMA BRIDGES: Because the government can't agree on a decision for the money.

BRADY: And what do you think about that?

EMMA: I think that they should just pick a decision so that way people can go to all these cool sites and also...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Learn about our history, right?

EMMA: ...Learn about our history.

BRADY: So maybe a 9-year-old will melt some hearts in Congress.

SIMON: Aw.

BRADY: But, you know, one probably silver lining here is that this is a slower time of year for the sites here in Philadelphia. It's pretty cold outside, so at least fewer people will be shut out of these places than, say, during the peak of the season in the summer.

SIMON: Now, Jeff, the Trump administration has said this government - they don't want this shutdown to be like the last one in 2013. More services will continue to operate. But I wonder what that looks like from where you're standing. Does it seem different this time?

BRADY: I was here in Philadelphia during the 2013 shutdown, and there are a few things that are different this time. Across from the Liberty Bell, there's a visitor center. And that is open. And maybe even more importantly, the bathrooms in there are open today. That's because that center - that visitor center is operated by a contractor, not National Park Service employees. Last time, that was shut down, too. But the sites that everyone comes here for - the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the tours associated with those sites - those are all shut down today.

SIMON: So tourists can look at a Liberty Bell through the window but use a bathroom. They just can't see the Liberty Bell up close.

BRADY: Yep - and can't get in and learn all those interesting facts about it.

SIMON: Now, you've been looking into other national parks across the country, too.

BRADY: Yeah. A National Park spokesman told me yesterday that their goal is to keep the national parks as accessible as possible while, you know, still following all of the laws and procedures. And that means parks with roads that already were open, they'll stay open. But there won't be any maintenance. So if it snows or it's icy, the roads won't be plowed or maintained. And most places that require staffing will be closed. Campgrounds may be opened. But there's no staff, so there's also no guarantee that your site is going to be ready if you're, you know, camping in the middle of January.

In D.C., the park service says war memorials and open-air parks are still open to the public today. Just don't expect to see any staff. And a few examples around the country - in Alaska, folks there say they're not going to close the parks 'cause they don't really have gates on them. You can still drive up. But be careful because there's not going to be anyone there to rescue you if you get into trouble.

SIMON: NPR's Jeff Brady, outside the Liberty Bell visitor center in downtown Philadelphia.

Jeff, thanks so much for being with us.

BRADY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.