SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 2, 2013

Tourists frustrated by shutdown

Visitor Center, attractions are closed

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — When Campbell and Rae Thomson boarded a plane in Australia, they weren’t aware of the threatened federal government shutdown. Yesterday, standing on Derby Wharf in Salem next to the tall ship Friendship, which was closed to visitors, they stared it in the face.

“It’s very disappointing for the visitors,” said Rae Thomson, 66.

Her sister-in-law from California, who helped plan their visit, used even stronger words.

“This is the first impact we’ve seen,” said Glenys Thomson, 66. “It’s so disgusting, so ridiculous.”

The Salem Maritime National Historic Site was one of hundreds of National Park Service locations across the country impacted by the first government shutdown in 17 years, which went into effect at midnight Monday night. In addition to Friendship, the Customs House and Regional Visitor Center were closed, and 32 National Park employees were placed on indefinite furloughs.

Notices were posted around the Salem site with the bad news: “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.”

Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., blamed each other for the shutdown, a high-stakes skirmish over the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”

Congressman John Tierney, the Salem Democrat from the Sixth District, issued a statement.

“Late (Monday) night, the Tea Party-wing of the House Republican Caucus shut down the federal government,” Tierney said. “By doing so, they failed to fulfill our country’s obligations to our seniors, veterans, military families and millions of other Americans and demonstrated they are not interested in responsibly governing ...”

A visitor strolling on Derby Wharf had a different view.

Steve Keys of Harrisburg, Pa., blamed President Barack Obama for the shutdown. “He doesn’t even want to meet with the Republicans,” he said.

Meanwhile, Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office, and others tried to assist the crowds of tourists who visit Salem during October, Witch City’s busiest month. Yesterday, volunteers manned an information booth in front of the shuttered Visitor Center.

By 1 p.m., more than 300 people had stopped to ask questions, pick up maps and brochures or use one of the portable toilets lined up outside the Visitor Center.

“We’re all just taking shifts ... and doing what we can to help out,” said Jennifer Close, a volunteer from Peabody Essex Museum.

Jim and Glenna Wilkinson of Texas heard about the shutdown on the news yesterday morning but decided to stop at the Salem Visitor Center anyway, where they were given several informational brochures.

“We figured it would be closed,” said Jim Wilkinson, “but hoped we could pick up a map. So, this is a gold mine.”

Other than affecting the Salem historic site, the shutdown appeared to have little impact locally.

The Head Start early-education programs in Beverly, Salem and Peabody are in a new funding cycle and should be set until spring, an official said.

Beverly Airport has air-traffic controllers who are funded through the end of October, the airport manager said.

The U.S. Army recruiting office in Peabody is not affected, according to a spokesman.

Area Social Security offices will remain open, although with limited services, according to the federal agency’s website.

But for tourists hoping to see inside the Customs House or walk the decks of Friendship, it was a frustrating day.

“It’s too bad,” said Keys, the visitor from Pennsylvania. “We’ve come here to see these things, and we can’t see them.”

Staff writer Alan Burke contributed to this article.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.