Shutdown forces some Martin Luther King Day events to be canceled around the US

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.


By MICHAEL E. RUANE | The Washington Post | Published: January 18, 2019

In Washington, the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens had to cancel its Martin Luther King Jr. "Day of Service" on Saturday because the partial government shutdown has the gates locked at the national park along the Anacostia River.

In San Francisco, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has canceled Martin Luther King Jr. Day service projects at five sites in and around the city.

Across the country, the shutdown has derailed some day of service projects that have become popular traditions over the King holiday weekend, and have provided needed support for national parks.

The slain civil rights leader's birthday was Jan. 15, when he would have turned 90, and his federal holiday is Monday.

In addition to other locations, the Martin Luther King Jr. homestead in Atlanta, which was taken over by the National Park Service last year, has been closed by the shutdown.

King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968 by escaped convict and segregationist James Earl Ray.

While most King holiday service projects appear likely to go on as scheduled, the absence of help at federal sites is a loss for the Park Service, and a letdown for volunteers, project leaders said.

In Washington, the Student Conservation Association has postponed its day of service on Monday at Washington's Anacostia Park, where about 400 volunteers were already registered to participate.

"It was disappointing from our standpoint because of the people we had to turn away," said Karen Davis, senior vice president for advancement at the Virginia-based Student Conservation Association.

"It equates to a little more than 800 hours of service that they would have been putting in for the national park," she said Thursday. "It's one of our premier events that we do here in D.C."

The postponement came because the park's staff, which is usually there to help out, has been furloughed, she said.

"It delays what needs to be done" for the park, such as the removal of trash or invasive plants, she said. "It's disappointing."

"It's postponed," she said. "We'll be back."

She said the shutdown did not seem to reduce the number of sign-ups: "It was on track with past years of the numbers that turn out for these type of service events."

Samantha Jo Warfield, spokeswoman for the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, which has not been affected by the shutdown, said of expected service day turnout: "I know of many projects that are already at capacity or have expanded their event to utilize more volunteers."

"The nation's volunteer rate has . . . remained remarkably stable for 15-plus years . . .[and] the D.C. area ranks in the top 10, about 10 percent above the national average," she said in an email.

George Washington University had about 100 students lined up for a service day in Washington's Rock Creek Park before the shutdown, said Amy Cohen, head of school's Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

"We had it scheduled for a while, but we got notice pretty early on that we were not going to be able to work with them," she said. "Once folks realized that the shutdown was really real, they let us know that we could not do that."

"Generally, if we have a [service project] cancellation, we turn to the Park Service," she said. "But they're not able to take volunteers now."

Cohen said the school has about 1,000 students and community members who will be volunteering elsewhere on other King service projects.

At the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, an enclave of quiet wetlands along the Anacostia River in northeast Washington, the friends had to cancel their annual service day because the park is closed and the gate is locked.

"It's incredibly frustrating," said Tina O'Connell, executive director of the friends group.

"The Park Service needs the help of volunteers and partners like friends groups to carry out its mission," she said. "So with the shutdown, they're not able to provide the services they do for all their visitors, and it makes it very difficult for us to continue to support them."

"I think there are a lot of things people can do to support the national parks right now," she said. "One is to support their friends group that belongs to the national park of their choice."

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