HANOVER, Pa. — Just before noon on Tuesday, one of the recently furloughed Gettysburg National Military Park rangers made his way past vehicles with license plates from dozens of states on the way back to his car.
It's hard to say when he, and another 75 full-time park service employees who were sent home Tuesday afternoon, will have another opportunity to serve the Gettysburg battlefield faithfully. They were among the nearly 1 million federal workers temporarily thrown out of work after the U.S. government partially shut down for the first time in 17 years late Monday night.
Of the 86 full-time employees, 76 were furloughed, Gettysburg Battlefield Spokesperson Katie Lawhon said. Eight law enforcement rangers and two maintenance workers considered essential personnel will be permitted on the grounds to preserve and protect park resources.
Lawhon worked until 10 a.m. this morning to make sure workers were able to put a plan in motion that would allow tourists some satisfaction, however slight.
“It's a difficult situation for our visitors and a difficult situation for our community,” Lawhon said, before accepting her furlough and exiting the Gettysburg National Park Museum and Visitor's Center.
The Gettysburg National Military Park, Eisenhower National Historic Site, David Wills House and the Soldiers' National Cemetery are closed, as are park roads that do not serve as throughways.
Open roads include Millerstown and Wheatfield roads as well as the route consisting of North Reynolds Avenue to Doubleday Avenue to Robinson Avenue to allow for resident access. Seminary Ridge Avenue and West Confederate Avenue to the McMillan House will remain open for resident access, but the rest of West Confederate Avenue and all other park roads will be closed until further notice.
Locals or visitors who trespass on park property during the shutdown may be issued citations, Lawhon said.
“The first time they see someone, they'll probably just inform them that we're closed and that includes pedestrian access,” she said. “If it's multiple times, they may be cited.”
The Visitor Center will remain open because it is owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation.
“That's a fantastic opportunity for visitors to have some experience in the park,” Lawhon said. “The film, cyclorama painting and museum exhibits can give them an experience that, in any other national park, that would not be available. Our unique relationship (with the Foundation) is the bright spot in all of this.”
Throughout the morning, several tourists met with privately contracted, licensed tour guides who explained modified tours that would give visitors a chance to see the battlefield without stepping on the grounds.
“They may drive on county and state roads through the park such as Business 15 and Route 97 and Mummasburg Road, but no stopping or parking will be permitted along National Park Service property,” Lawhon said.
Visitors wishing to cancel their tour in advance will be refunded and the guide will not be paid, Lawhon said. If tourists express dissatisfaction following the altered tour, Lawhon said, the Gettysburg Foundation will refund their money.
And some guests were dissatisfied with a modified tour.
One visitor came a long way to visit relatives buried at Soldiers' National Cemetery, Visitor Center Marketing Director Cindy Small said. They were given a packet of historical material and photos of the cemetery, but were disappointed.
Most visitors had followed the reports from D.C. and knew what to expect upon entering the center, Small said.
“A good many that are here today were here yesterday as well,” she said. “We told them to get out on the battlefield then and we'd see them back for the film and museum today.”
Anyone attempting to call or e-mail the office will receive a generic response, generally describing the closed areas, Lawhon said. She added that all national park websites are being redirected to a Department of Interior website: www.doi.gov/shutdown, where it displays more detailed impacts on the National Park Service.
The shutdown forced the park to rescind nearly a dozen permits for special events, including a Ku Klux Klan demonstration scheduled for Oct. 5 on the lawn north of Meade's Headquarters along Taneytown Road. Lawhon said two weddings at the amphitheater and commemorations of military units were also cancelled.
For now, all October permits were rescinded, but Lawhon said that is subject to change depending how long the government is out of action.
“We'll have to see when the shutdown ends and take it on a case by case basis,” she said. “It's too early to say.”