Vol­un­teers, states try to fill the void

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Michael E. Ruane The Washington Post

In Vicks­burg, Mis­sis­sippi, the Friends of Vicks­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park and Cam­paign are pay­ing $2,000 a day to keep the park open dur­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

When a storm blew down trees in the park last week, vol­un­teers and a lo­cal con­trac­tor showed up to clear the de­bris. And Mayor Ge­orge Flaggs Jr. said the city passed a res­o­lu­tion Wed­nes­day to make up the fund­ing when the friends fall short.

Across the coun­try, cities, states, pri­vate agen­cies and vol­un­teers are try­ing to fill the void cre­ated by the shut­down — with lit­tle cer­tainty of re­im­burse­ment.

In the Red­woods na­tional and state parks of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the state Depart­ment of Parks and Recre­ation has paid for the re­strooms to be cleaned and for trash re­moval.

In New York, the state is pay­ing $65,000 a day to op­er­ate the Statue of Lib­erty Na­tional Mon­u­ment and El­lis Is­land.

“We’re watch­ing gov­ern­ment at its worst in Washington,” Demo­cratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told ra­dio sta­tion 1010 WINS. “The Statue of Lib­erty is a sym­bol of Amer­ica at her best.”

The Utah Of­fice of Tourism, mean­while, is pro­vid­ing money to staff vis­i­tor cen­ters and to con­tinue cus­to­dial ser­vices at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion na­tional parks.

In the past, some state spend­ing dur­ing shut­downs has been re­paid, but only in part, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts.

Dur­ing the 2013 shut­down, Utah paid al­most $1.7 mil­lion to keep five na­tional parks open, ac­cord­ing to a Pew re­port last year. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­paid only about $666,000.

But the states, cities and vol­un­teers can’t do every­thing.

In Washington on Wed­nes­day, as city garbage trucks col­lected trash on the na­tional mall, rub­bish over­flowed from cans within sight of the White House. The city is col­lect­ing trash at the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s 126 prop­er­ties in Washington and will treat and clear Park Ser­vice road­ways dur­ing bad weather.

In Philadel­phia, In­de­pen­dence Hall and the Lib­erty Bell Cen­ter closed again Mon­day af­ter the city tourism agency’s do­na­tion of $32,000 to keep the sites run­ning for three days ran out. Vis­i­tors must now view the Lib­erty Bell through a win­dow.

Cara Sch­nei­der, a spokes­woman for the tourism agency Visit Philadel­phia, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not ex­pect to be re­paid.

The strain of the shut­down is per­haps felt most in smaller towns like Vicks­burg, the site of a sev­en­week siege of Con­fed­er­ate forces by the Union army in 1863. The Con­fed­er­ate sur­ren­der was a ma­jor Union vic­tory.

The 1,800-acre na­tional park and mu­seum there has become a big tourist des­ti­na­tion and rev­enue driver for the econ­omy.

The park is the largest tourist at­trac­tion in Mis­sis­sippi, with more than 500,000 vis­i­tors a year, said Bess Averett, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Friends of Vicks­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park and Cam­paign, the park’s non­profit part­ner. Thou­sands visit via river­boat tours on the Mis­sis­sippi.

Since the shut­down be­gan, four river­boats have stopped in Vicks­burg, each car­ry­ing about 400 guests who “have been able to see the park that would not have been able to oth­er­wise,” Averett said. “There’s re­ally no higher pri­or­ity project we could take on than keep­ing the gates open.”

BLOOMBERG

In New York, the state is pay­ing $65,000 a day to op­er­ate the Statue of Lib­erty Na­tional Mon­u­ment and El­lis Is­land dur­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

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