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150 Years After Battle Of Gettysburg, Shutdown Hindering History Tours

Oct 5, 2013
Originally published on October 5, 2013 6:36 pm

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

From NPR West, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath.

The U.S. government has been shut down for five days. Earlier today, the House of Representatives voted to grant federal workers back pay when the shutdown ends, but there is no sign that end is coming anytime soon. And frustration among those on the job is growing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We've already gone through six days of unpaid furlough in the last few months. And here we are, back in the same situation again. The only difference is now, we don't know how long it's going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stop the shutdown! Stop the shutdown!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The government doesn't seem to understand that when they do things like this, it really affects us small people.

RATH: Workers in Missouri, Chicago and Washington state. For some, the furloughs will end next week. Most of the 400,000 civilian Defense Department employees will return to work on Monday. But as long as the shutdown continues, national parks and monuments are closed.

The famous Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., is celebrating a major anniversary this year. And despite the shutdown, there are efforts to keep the crowds coming. Marie Cusick, of member station WITF, explains.

MARIE CUSICK, BYLINE: This is a big year for Gettysburg. It's the 150th anniversary of the battle. Events and commemorations have been marking the milestone all year long. Back in July, thousands of people cheered as they poured onto the battlefield to re-enact Pickett's Charge, the doomed Confederate assault.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

CUSICK: These days, it's harder to find the same level of enthusiasm. Nearly all 6,000 acres of the battlefield are off-limits. A skeleton crew of National Park Service rangers is still working to make sure visitors keep out of the park. Even foot traffic is prohibited.

JOEL BUSENITZ: We cannot drive on any of the federal government park roads. So we basically have to do outskirt tours - driving around the state roads that are all still open.

CUSICK: That's Joel Busenitz, an official battlefield guide. He's still working, and the Gettysburg visitor's center is still open, too. That's because it's managed by a private foundation, which employs the guides as independent contractors. But the shutdown is still stymieing their efforts. Even though many of the state roads run right through the middle of the battlefield, cars and tour buses can slow down to look, but they're not allowed to pull over and park.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE)

RATH: Doug Taylor served in the Vietnam War, and came with a group of fellow veterans from Ohio. He was happy they were able to park on a local road, and get out to see a monument commemorating the 8th Ohio Infantry.

DOUG TAYLOR: I'd rather see the whole thing, but I'm getting my money's worth, I think.

CUSICK: He says he's frustrated with the latest war between Democrats and Republicans.

TAYLOR: Not quite in the danger we were then, but it's still not very nice.

CUSICK: Nearby businesses are also paying a price for the shutdown. Deborah Pyles is the manager at General Pickett's Buffet, which is right next to the battlefield.

DEBORAH PYLES: Well, yesterday, we had four buses booked at lunchtime, and two of them canceled. So we've had two cancellations for next week out of a lot of buses, but it's still early. People are just kind of waiting to see what's going to happen, I think.

CUSICK: Over at the 1863 Inn of Gettysburg, a sign outside reads: Unlike the government, we never shut down here. Norma Herring is the general manager, and says they've lost about 15 percent of their business due to cancellations in the past few days.

NORMA HERRING: We've had people call and say, we hear that the town is shut down. And we're like, no. No, there's plenty to do. You just can't go on the battlefield.

CUSICK: She's grown up here, and says what upsets her most right now is that Gettysburg's National Cemetery is closed, too.

HERRING: You can't even walk in there to pay respects to your departed. I mean, that's just wrong.

CUSICK: She's hoping the federal government can get its act together soon. Thousands more visitors are expected to come to the cemetery next month for the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address.

HERRING: It's a travesty if they don't at least open that cemetery for the events in November. Complete travesty.

CUSICK: For NPR News, I'm Marie Cusick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.