National parks prepping to turn away visitors with shutdown looming

By CLINT SCHEMMER | The (Fredericksburg, Va.) Free Lance-Star | Published: September 28, 2013

National Park Service officials hope it won’t happen, but are preparing their staffs in case Capitol Hill forces a partial government shutdown on Tuesday.

For Fredericksburg-area residents, that calamity would shutter George Washington Birthplace National Monument and most of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, putting thousands of acres off-limits.

By 11:59 p.m. Monday, managers at those parks will know what the future holds.

If the shutdown comes, park personnel will work up to four hours Tuesday morning to batten the hatches, lock buildings and turn off computers, Fredericksburg–Spotsylvania Superintendent Lucy Lawliss said Friday in a phone interview.

“We will leave behind a skeleton staff of law enforcement rangers and a maintenance person to do water treatment,” Lawliss said. “There will be six people left to close our areas, and keep them closed, until we are brought back to work.”

Normally, the park employs 44 people.

Under a Phase 1 shutdown scenario, the 7,600-acre park’s visitor centers and interpretive structures will be closed, Lawliss said. Volunteers, interns and friends-group members will be unable to work without Park Service supervision.

North Lee Drive on the Fredericksburg battlefield will remain open because private drives use that road for access, she said. But roads on the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield and around the Chancellorsville Visitor Center will be closed, the gates lowered.

At national parks that have overnight accommodations, the Phase 2 scenario would require those staying in campgrounds and hotels to leave as park concessionaires curtail operations.

Park Service managers will receive more detailed guidance on Monday, Lawliss said. “Our hope is that all this goes away on Monday or before,” she said.

Similarly, the Washington Birthplace in Westmoreland County on Virginia’s Northern Neck and the Thomas Stone National Historic Site in Charles County, Md., will be shuttered Tuesday if Congress doesn’t act on the fiscal 2014 federal budget, said Scott Hill, their chief of interpretation.

“We will be going to essential personnel only,” he said. “So visitors will not be permitted at all.”

Naturally, the Colonial sites’ staff hopes that doesn’t happen, Hill said.

“We would like to stay open for our public. That’s what we were created to do,” he said. “We want to be here, have the doors open and welcome the public to our parks.”

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