‘It’s a National Disgrace’
Jane and John Whelihan of Strafford, Vt., are handed a flyer by Facilities Manager John Gilbert, on Oct, 3, 2013, describing why Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt., has been closed. The park been closed due to the federal government shutdown.
(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
Ranger hats sit unused at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt., on Oct. 3, 2013. The park been closed due to the federal government shutdown.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Walking between Billings Farm & Museum and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt. on Oct. 5, 2013, Pat and Tony Siciliano were looking for a way into the historical site. The couple from Long Island, N.Y., have a condo in Quechee, Vt. and were hoping to go for a walk on the carriage trails. They had their daughter's dog Louie with them. Because of the federal government shutdown, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park has been closed.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Woodstock — Mark and Sarah Westwood approached the entrance of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park just after noon on Thursday only to see a yellow plastic chain roping off the park’s entrance.
The two had traveled from London to New England for eight days to visit historic sites but after studying a sign reading the park was closed because of a government shutdown, disappointment set in.
“We came here to see this and now we are not going to see it,” Sarah Westwood said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Mark Westwood put it more bluntly.
“It’s a national disgrace,” he said. “You don’t get government shutdowns in Germany, in China or other civilized places. It’s a disgrace. What does the government normally do that makes it safe to walk?”
Although signs were posted at all of the parks entrances Thursday, several people stepped over the waist-high rope anyway.
John and Jane Whelihan, of South Strafford, said they visit the park once a season and weren’t going to let a rope — or a gridlocked government — ruin their fall trip.
“I feel very bad for people who are visiting our wonderful national parks who are locked out,” Jane Whelihan said. “I’m very annoyed at our legislators for having their own p etty little spats and taking it out on the American public. These are our parks.”
Although people were seen walking the land, all of the buildings on the property remained closed. During the shutdown, the National Park Service has minimal staffing at parks to address emergencies. All other employees have been furloughed.
Facilities Manager John Gilbert was seen in full uniform on the grounds Thursday — despite the government shutdown — but “whether he gets paid or not is up to congressional appropriations,” Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Superintendent Michael Creasey said in an email.
Gilbert was saddened by the closure of the park.
“I started 41 years ago for the park services and for 41 years my job has been to open the park for the people ... and for the last two days my job has been to keep people off of the park,” Gilbert said. “It’s not good. I hate doing it.”
Gilbert was seen handing out flyers to trespassers that inform them parks across the country are closed and will remain so until National Park Service funding is restored as part of the broader budget.
“I apologize, very much,” Gilbert said, as he handed a flyer to the Whelihans on their way out of the park.
Creasey, dressed yesterday in khaki shorts and a T-shirt, said the ambiance inside the park is surreal.
“It’s so quiet in here. Usually it’s just so vibrant here with all of the school kids,” he said. “It’s eerie.”
Gilbert said hundreds of school groups have had their trips canceled, as well as families from near and far. Normally, the park sees about 300 visitors per day in October, he said.
Across the street, the nonprofit Billings Farm and Museum remains open. The farm isn’t officially affiliated with the national park, though the two entities do work closely on day-to-day operations.
Megan Campbell, coordinator for interpretation and education, said Billings Farm and Museum has seen a “very small” dip in the number visitors. The farm sells a joint ticket with the national park that allows guests to visit both for one price .
“For the last couple of days we haven’t been selling that, so that has impacted our daily visitation numbers,” she said. “We also get people who are unclear that these are two separate organizations so they are rather surprised that we are open but happy that there is something to do once they get here.”
Small businesses in downtown Woodstock said impact of the park closing on tourism hasn’t shown up yet. The shutdown doesn’t appear to have affected tourism numbers in Quechee, either.
“It’s quite the contrary,” said Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Sandy Clavelle. “It’s been a banner (fall) so far.”
Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are feeling the effects of furloughs around the country, including nearly 3,000 Vermont National Guardsman. Their October drill weekend, which would have commenced today, was postponed because of the government shutdown.
“It directly impacts training and that’s why we do what we do. We train for the eventuality that we might be called,” said Vermont National Guard Spokesman Cpt. Christopher Gookin. The military trucks at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in White River Junction remained parked and only few cars sat in the parking lot Thursday morning.
Gookin said the training session will need to be made up by the end of the fiscal year, which could mean inconveniences for guardsmen and their families .
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site is also closed, and could remain so until the spring, depending on the length of the D.C. impasse. The house and grounds in Cornish typically close for the season at the end of October.
Nicky Schmidlein, of New York, who was visiting Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park for the first time on Thursday decided to hike anyway.
“We mentioned that there might be someone with a submachine gun,” she laughed. “But they are not getting paid.”
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.