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Government reopening sees Pennsylvania parks, offices abuzz

By 69 News & Associated Press, (follow: @69news), news@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 10:43:53 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 17 2013 02:22:28 PM CDT
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Federal offices and national parks in Pennsylvania reopened for business Thursday, a day after U.S. lawmakers approved legislation to end a 16-day partial government shutdown that idled thousands of federal employees in the state while inconveniencing tourists and costing businesses that rely on them.

Barricades at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Gettysburg National Military Park and Valley Forge National Historical Park were removed Thursday morning.

A few hours later, Philadelphia's famed historical attractions followed suit and began admitting visitors for the first time since the shutdown began Oct. 1.

"So here we are, and luck would be in our favor that we finally got the open doors to come and see all these great sites in Philadelphia," said Leslie Sworsky, a teacher from St. Francis, Minn., as she waited for the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to reopen.

In Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., the shutdown's end was a relief for James Ulrich, an unemployed 19-year-old who needed a replacement Social Security card but had been unable to get one from the local Social Security office.

"They just said, 'We're not issuing new or (replacement) Social Security cards right now, so you're going to have to wait until the government's back up and running.' ... So we waited until last night, when we heard it was open, and rushed over here this morning," Ulrich said.

Ulrich's old Social Security card had been lost during a move. Lacking a replacement, he has been unable to apply for jobs.

"Pretty frustrating, because I know I can work," said Ulrich, a high school dropout who needs a job while he studies for his GED.

Adding insult to injury, Ulrich was told Thursday that a replacement card would take another two weeks to arrive. So, in all, his job search will have been delayed more than a month.

"I don't have a really good outlook on the government," he said.

The shutdown also affected Pennsylvania agriculture.

Some farmers failed to receive subsidy payments or loans as scheduled, while others postponed the sale of crops because they lacked critical data on yields from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA's reports on the corn and soybean harvests affect the price at which those crops are bought and sold, said Mark O'Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Farmers went without other government services, as well.

"In many ways, the shutdown was like a bad spell of weather, where farmers were negatively affected by something they had no control over," O'Neill said.

The same could be said of tourists. In Valley Forge, a sign declared "Welcome Back!" to visitors and returning federal employees alike. At Gettysburg, park ranger and management assistant Katie Lawhon said the historic battlefield and the Eisenhower National Historic Site had reopened.

With tourism its No. 1 industry, the Gettysburg region could ill afford a prolonged shutdown, especially this year, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

"With each day the shutdown was in effect, businesses in Adams County suffered more," said Norris Flowers, president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We are thrilled to have these historic sites open again."

He said the visitors bureau had promoted other attractions during the shutdown in an attempt to lure tourists.

"While many cancellations did occur during the past two weeks, we were happy to see so many visitors in town, taking advantage of the many experiences this destination has to offer," he said.

At Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, one couple's long wait to see the sites finally drew to a close.

Karen and Richard Dodds of Oklahoma City, Okla., are on a quest to see every national park in the U.S. The retired couple arrived in Philadelphia about three weeks ago in their motor home, visiting Valley Forge National Park just before the shutdown.

They've stayed in the area since, hoping the government would reopen so they could see Philly's historical attractions before they had to head back home this weekend.

Karen Dodds said she expects to see government gridlock again in a few months.

"They didn't solve anything by this," she said of the temporary agreement in Washington. "The worst part is they'll do it again in January and February."