Parks open, workers back in office after shutdown

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webmaster | 10/18/13
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By David Crary

From the Yosemite National Park to Alcatraz, federal landmarks and offices reopened Thursday. Furloughed employees were relieved to get back to work — even if faced with email backlogs — but many worried about another such disruption in a matter of months.

“We’d hate to have to live through this all over again,” Richard Marcus, a 29-year employee of the National Archives in Washington, said after the government shutdown finally ended.

Nationwide, from big-city office buildings to wilderness outposts, innumerable federal services and operations shifted back into gear after 16 days.

The U.S. Forest Service started lifting a logging ban on national forests. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services restarted the computerized system used to verify the legal status of workers. Boat trips resumed to Alcatraz, the former federal prison in San Francisco Bay, with 1,600 tickets snapped up by tourists in the first hour of business.

In Alaska, federal officials rushed to get the red king crab fishing season underway. The opening had been delayed because furloughed workers were not around to issue crab-quota permits.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said all 401 national park units — from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California to Acadia National Park in Maine — were reopening Thursday.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees had been among the 800,000 federal workers sent home at the peak of the shutdown.

At Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, employees were busy with reopening chores. They returned just in time to begin closing the parks up again for the winter in a couple of weeks.

At Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, one couple’s long wait to see the Liberty Bell and other attractions finally drew to a close.

Karen and Richard Dodds of Oklahoma City were on a quest to see every national park in the U.S. They arrived in Philadelphia about three weeks ago in their motor home, visiting Valley Forge just before the shutdown. They stayed on in the area, awaiting a settlement.

“They didn’t solve anything by this,” Katie Dodds said of the temporary agreement in Congress that funds the government only through Jan. 15 and gives it the borrowing authority it needs only through Feb. 7. “The worst part is they’ll do it again in January and February.”

Among the many sites reopening in Washington were the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and the World War II memorial on the National Mall, which had been the scene of protests over the shutdown.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the museum complex lost about $2.8 million in revenue during the shutdown.

The National Zoo was set to reopen today, though its popular panda cam went live Thursday morning, giving fans a view of a cub wriggling about as its mother, Mei Xiang, tucked her paws under her chin and watched.

Federal workers who were furloughed or worked without pay during the shutdown will get back pay in their next paychecks, which for most employees come Oct. 29.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez greeted returning workers with a sympathetic email.

“Unfortunately, as President Obama correctly noted, you are occasionally called on to perform your remarkably important work in a climate that too often treats federal employees and contractors as a punching bag,” Perez said.

 

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