Budget Dispute Closes Parks, Museums: ‘It Stinks,’ Tourists Say
Undated (AP) _ Camp David is open as usual for President Bush and his guests, but the closed sign is hung at the visitors’ center in the surrounding Catoctin National Park.
It was a scene repeated at national parks from New York to Hawaii after the federal government ran out of money at midnight Friday.
The shutdown ruined some vacations and inconvenienced countless Americans over the weekend. But its full impact will not be felt until Tuesday, when federal offices are scheduled to reopen after the three-day Columbus Day weekend.
Most of the 2.4 million federal workers were being told to report to work on Tuesday, but without a budget agreement most would likely be sent home soon afterward.
Richard Darman, the White House budget director, said only workers performing services needed to ″protect life and property″ would stay on the job.
That includes Weather Service meteorologists, air traffic controllers, prison guards, meat and poultry inspectors and the military. Mail delivery would continue since the Postal Office is not dependent on government appropriations. And the National Hurricane Center in Miami was continuing to track tropical storm Klaus.
Congress and Bush administration officials continued wrangling over a budget into the night Sunday. Bush, meanwhile, spent most of the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md. The president opted to travel by motorcade rather than take a helicopter; it was cheaper that way, a White House aide said.
Camp David is located in the Catoctin Mountain Park and the adjacent Cunningham Falls State Park. However, the retreat is a Navy installation, staffed permanently by Navy personnel and Marine guards. Its recreational facilities were not subject to the shutdown.
In the nation’s capital, the Washington Monument, the White House and the Smithsonian museums were closed. The grounds of the National Zoo were open, but the animal buildings were not.
Sightseers could walk around the Lincoln Memorial or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial but there were no Park Service officials to answer questions and no cleanup crews to pick up trash. Leaders of the National Committee for American War Veterans, a volunteer group that maintains a vigil near the Vietnam memorial, said they would begin picking up trash on the Mall.
″This one’s closed, too, Dad,″ was a refrain repeated time after time around the capital.
A Roanoke Rapids, N.C., Boy Scout troop had this reaction to the locked doors at the National Air and Space Museum: ″It stinks.″
Troop leader Bill Johnson said, ″The boys won’t forget this and I expect they’ll go home and tell their parents about what happened to them.″
Ironically, the Capitol was one of the few tourist sites open in Washington. ″Unfortunately we are the only game in town so our tour guides are really busy,″ said Tom Keating, executive assistant to the House sergeant at arms.
Still, the action in the Capitol was limited at best. When the House came into session at 4 p.m. - only to recess again moments later - loud booing erupted from the galleries packed with tourists.
″They should have settled the budget instead of going on vacation,″ said 20-year-old Kara DiMugno of Southington, Conn., referring to the long recess members of Congress took in August.
While the national parks were not closed, services were virtually nil. For the most part, restrooms were closed, first aid assistance was not available and guided tours were canceled.
At the Saratoga National Park in New York, park rangers turned away a man who annually re-enacts Gen. Horatio Gates’ defeat of British soldiers. Sunday was the 213th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle.
The annual historic fair was canceled at Georgia’s Andersonville National Historic Site, the Confederate prison camp where 123,000 Union soldiers died during the Civil War.
″An awful lot of people were angry that we were closing the gates, but when Congress said close it down, we closed it down,″ said park ranger Mark Ragan.
John Diehl of Chicago was vacationing in Hawaii and had hoped to see the Arizona Memorial before heading to the island of Kauai. Instead he and his friends were greeted by a closed sign.
″It’s time to elect some new representatives and senators, since they can’t get the budget passed,″ he said, joining other tourists peering through locked glass doors of the visitor center, staring out over Pearl Harbor at the memorial.
At Yosemite National Park in California, visitors were forced to leave the campgrounds after non-essential rangers were sent home, but some hikers parked vehicles outside gates and went back in on foot.
″We ought to lay off the people at the top,″ said Richard Chaboya of San Jose. ″Why attack the pleasures of the average people.″
Judy Laymon, a clerk at the private Lake Amistad Resort and Marina in south Texas on the Rio Grande River, said, ″What I want to know is are they going to shut down the borders? I’d hate to go over to Mexico to eat and not be able to get back.″