Sign of the day: Closed until further notice

Sign at front gate of Valley Forge National Park lets visitors know the park is closed. (Mari A. Schaefer/Staff)
Sign at front gate of Valley Forge National Park lets visitors know the park is closed. (Mari A. Schaefer/Staff)
Posted: October 03, 2013

Closed

That is the sign that went up Tuesday at National Parks in and around Philadelphia as the partial government shutdown went into effect.

Independence Hall. Closed. The Liberty Bell. Closed. Valley Forge. Closed.

And with their doors and gates locked, hundreds of federal employees now find themselves facing furlough. In other words, out of work and earning no pay.

Independence National Historical Park was a "depressing and confusing" place to be on Tuesday morning, according to David Fitzpatrick, an air-conditioning mechanic and the president of Local 2058 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Workers were told to come in, but to expect to be furloughed in the coming hours, he said.

"We're regular working folks - carpenters, plumbers, gardeners and people with master's degrees in history and horticulture," Fitzpatrick said. "But Congress is using us as their pawns in this. Our bosses are in the same boat. These are dedicated federal employees, not fat cats from D.C. We are the people you see riding the trains to work each morning."

Park employees were told not to expect to be on site for more than four hours, Fitzpatrick said. They were given orders to change the messages on their voice mails to indicate they'd be out of the office for an unspecified amount of time.

Workers were also told to secure work documents and government property, and to throw away all food, Fitzpatrick said.

"It's a very depressing mood here," he continued. "People are concerned for their financial well-being. We're now having to think about food stamps and unemployment insurance. It's very confusing."

Jane Cowley, public affairs officer for Independence National Historical Park, said Tuesday morning that workers were told they'd have up to four hours to close down their work stations and get ready for furlough. Most workers arrived at the already-shuttered park between 7 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., she said, adding she didn't think that any employees other than security personnel would be around after noon.

On Tuesday morning, park office workers were calling people who had secured permits to use the park for various activities to say those activities would have to be canceled. A commercial film shoot, as well as wedding photography and other activities had been scheduled in the coming week, Cowley said.

Employees spent the morning putting up signs around the 54-acre park informing people that the park was closed. Nevertheless, several visitors had already gathered at the park, hoping to see the iconic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Cowley said.

They were told they could not.

Cowley said that the park's website also would be coming down on Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick said that he and other union members planned to form an informational picket at Fifth and Market Streets around noon Tuesday to tell visitors and anyone else "what's going on here."

At Valley Forge National Park, Jeannine Norris, 49, of Upper Providence arrived for a run with her dog, only to be turned away.

Even though she knew about the government shutdown, she at least expected the trails would be open.

"It is a terrible shame the Republicans and Democrats couldn't come together," she said. "We have to stop being a country with two parties and start acting as one nation."

She said she blames the GOP for the shutdown.

Steve Hranilovich, 50, of Phoenixville, was turned away from using the bike path for his morning commute/workout. A Democrat, he does not expect the shutdown to last long and feels it was worth shutting down to make a point.

"Obamacare is not going to be sacrificed so easily," he said.

Don Mertes, of Oregon, blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"He's always got his foot in his mouth," Mertes said, leaning over his wife Judy in the passenger seat as he slowly made a u-turn.

The couple planned to tour Valley Forge in the morning and already purchased tickets online to see Gettysburg in the afternoon.

What now?

"Who knows?" Don Mertes said.

They would start with a cup of coffee and then probably still head to Gettysburg and look for historic sites not impacted by the shutdown, he said.

On Independence Mall, Harrison and Shanna Blizzard, honeymooners from Prince Edward Island, Canada, on their first trip to Philadelphia, were disappointed to find they could not get in to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

"It is kind of frustrating," Harrison Blizzard said. "I wanted to learn the history."


Emily Babay of Philly.com contributed to this story.

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