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US government shutdown closes parks, monuments

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 5:44 pm

PHILADELPHIA — Visitors arrived to find "CLOSED" signs at the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and other parks and historic sites across the country. Callers looking for help from the government reached only voicemail. And federal employees were left to wonder when they would return to work.

The first government shutdown in 17 years took hold Tuesday in ways large and small.

About 800,000 federal employees were sent home — a number greater than the combined U.S. workforces of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google.

"After next week, if we're not working, I'm going to have to find a job," said Robert Turner, a building mechanic at the Smithsonian's American History museum in the nation's capital. He was called in for part of the day to take out the trash, turn off the water and help close up the place.

The effects played out in a variety of ways, from scaled-back operations at federal prosecutors' offices and the FBI to revoked permits for dozens of weddings at historic sites in Washington.

Campers and hikers at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national parks were given two days to pack up and leave, and new visitors were being turned away. St. Louis' landmark 630-foot-high Gateway Arch was off-limits as well.

In Philadelphia, Paul Skilling of Northern Ireland wanted to see the Liberty Bell up close but had to settle for looking at the symbol of democracy through glass. And he wasn't optimistic about the chances of visiting any landmarks in Washington, the next stop on a weeks-long visit.

"Politics is fantastic, isn't it?" he said ruefully.

In New York, tourists who had hoped to see the Statue of Liberty were instead offered an hour harbor cruise.

"There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this," said Cheryl Strahl, a disappointed visitor from Atascadero, Calif. "Why take it out on the national parks?"

The government closings did not stop the launch on Tuesday of the enrollment period for the online insurance marketplaces established under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul — the program at the very heart of the dispute that produced the shutdown.

The two federal employees in orbit around the Earth — NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Michael Hopkins — carried on as usual aboard the International Space Station, with essential employees at Mission Control in Houston supporting the lab and its six inhabitants.

There were no TV or web updates, however, as most of NASA's workforce was furloughed.

Anglers headed to the highly anticipated first day of the fall fishing season on North Carolina's Outer Banks found they could not drive onto the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Dozens of goats were taken off ivy-eating duty at Fort Hancock, a recreation area in Sandy Hook, N.J. A KKK rally planned for the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania this weekend was canceled.

Out West, Thora Johannson and her sister wanted to spend one more night at a campground at the Grand Canyon. But they packed up their things and headed home Tuesday, Johannson to San Francisco and her sister to Vancouver, Canada.

"It's a terrible thing to hold the national parks hostage to bickering parties," Johannson said. "This is really sad. People have been saving to come here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

In Utah, rafting outfitters were not allowed on major rivers, and the state's five national parks closed during what is normally a busy time of year.

"We're dealing with a broken system, a broken Congress," said John Wood, president of Holiday River Expeditions. "They couldn't be doing more to run me out of business."

In the nation's capital, fountains were being turned off on the National Mall and the National Zoo closed. Its beloved panda-cam went dark.

But more than 125 veterans from Iowa and Mississippi walked past barricades at the National World War II Memorial after members of Congress cut the police tape and moved barriers for them.

The IRS suspended audits for the duration of the shutdown, and call centers were left unmanned. In St. Paul, Minn., the voicemail warned callers they "should file and pay their taxes as normal."

The 12 million people who got six-month extensions must still file their returns by Oct. 15. But the agency will not issue tax refunds until the government resumes normal operations.