Eileen Ogintz, Taking the Kids, October 4, 2013
I'm sorry for any of you who are visiting a National Park, Washington, D.C., or had tickets to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I'm sorry if you need to get a passport in a hurry.
Because of the imbroglio in Washington, Congress couldn't agree on a spending bill that the Constitution requires to fund the government. House Republicans are demanding that the portions of the Affordable Care Act be delayed; The Senate Democrats kyboshed that idea. Since the Republicans control the House, and the Democrats the Senate, the government has shut down.
What does this mean for traveling families? Eight hundred thousand "nonessential" federal workers are furloughed without pay. That includes those who work at the Smithsonian and other federal museums, national parks, historic sites like battlefields, presidential birthplaces and presidential homes. All park ranger programs and special events held in national parks have been canceled, says spokesman Kathy Kupper. The parks' Social media accounts on Twitter and websites have shut down.
Major parks concessionaire Xanterra is processing refunds for those travelers whose stays are impacted at their lodges, they relayed in a written statement. The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel remains open and the Grand Canyon Railway specialty trains will continue to operate, including the popular Pumpkin Patch trips, though the daily train to and from the Grand Canyon is suspended until the park re-opens.
If this goes on much longer, new passports will be delayed. The U.S. State Department says, "Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100 percent operational, as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations." That means if you or your kids need a passport, you had better apply ASAP, reports USA Today.
If you are planning to fly, expect regular security screening. According to the TSA, screening staff are considered essential government personnel and will be on the job. So will federal air traffic controllers.
Certainly, it's much worse for all the federal workers without a paycheck than for those whose vacations are disrupted. And it will be devastating for those whose businesses rely on tourists visiting these famous sites, like hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Dan Austin, whose company Austin Lehman Adventures (www.austinlehman.com) is famous for its guided adventure trips in the national parks, is quickly making arrangements to shepherd his groups elsewhere for their hiking and biking vacations.
But many of us don't have anyone to make alternate arrangements for us. We've waited all year, often many years, to visit Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Smithsonian or the Statue of Liberty. It may not be so easy to reschedule.
If you were planning a visit to a national park this weekend, you'll have to cancel, unless you are more hopeful than I am that Congress can come to a resolution and pass the funding bill. According to the National Park Service, more than 21,000 National Park Service employees are being furloughed. As a rule, staffing will be held to the very minimum for the protection of life, property and public health and safety, their directive says.
Those already in the parks are being asked to leave and entrances will be closed, the NPS adds. Wherever possible, park roads are being closed, as are support centers. Overnight visitors are being given two days to make alternate arrangements.
National parks include historic monuments - every place from the just re-opened Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia to sites like the Cambridge, Mass., home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (George Washington used this house as his headquarters during the siege of Boston in 1775) or Fort Laramie in Wyoming, which guarded pioneers heading west to Oregon and California before the Civil War. There are 401 historic sites in all.
Federally funded museums in Washington, D.C., which, of course, include the 19 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are also closed.
There has been much discussion about how we can no longer watch the much-loved National Zoo Panda Cam, especially popular since the birth of the new cub in August.
Other federally funded museums like the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Mall memorials are also closed with barricades blocking the National Mall. Even the fountains are being shut off.
Private museums in Washington, like the Newseum, The Crime Museum and the International Spy Museum will remain open and, I'm guessing, packed with visitors. The Kennedy Center and the National Center for Performing Arts will remain open, as they are supported by ticket sales contributions and grants. Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in Virginia, also remains open.
All we can do is make the best of the situation - and express our displeasure to our representatives.
Of course, there's no guarantee anyone will answer the phone, or monitor email.
(Use Eileen's Kid's Guide to Washington, D.C., available in bookstores and online to make the most of your trip. For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)