By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Salem’s National Park Service sites are shut down no more.
Park staff returned to work yesterday, as the 16-day government shutdown ended.
Tours, school visits and programming resumed yesterday morning at the Salem Maritime Site at Derby Wharf, and the Regional Visitor Center on New Liberty Street was unlocked and reopened to the public.
It was “a painful decision” to have to close during Salem’s busiest month of the year, said Jonathan Parker, public information officer for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
Last year, the visitor center saw 93,477 people in the month of October, up to 3,000 per day.
“To have to close for any period of time, but especially in October, is particularly difficult for our staff,” Parker said. “It was certainly a challenging and difficult time for us. ... We’re just happy to be back serving our visitors and the American public.”
Over the course of the shutdown, Destination Salem, the city’s tourism office, ran a temporary information booth in front of the shuttered visitor center. A table laden with maps and brochures was set up each morning and taken down each night.
They answered questions and distributed information to more than 13,000 people, said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. More than 60 volunteers came forward to staff the information table.
Fox said city officials had begun to “troubleshoot” plans for this weekend, if the shutdown had continued as Salem’s Halloween season kicked into high gear. The extra port-a-potties brought in while the visitor center restrooms were closed will remain through Halloween, Fox said.
Fox called it all exhausting, but a great experience.
“While it was completely necessary and we were happy to do it, it caused some longer days and derailed a couple of things at Destination Salem,” she said. “I’m very happy the government is back, and we have all our National Park Service rangers at work. They’re great at their jobs and we appreciate all that they do.”
The Park Service has 32 employees in Salem, plus 10 more at Saugus National Iron Works, which is jointly managed with Salem.
On Thursday, they received comments, handshakes and emails of thanks as the sites reopened, Parker said. Destination Salem, Salem Main Streets and the Salem Chamber of Commerce sent a “welcome back” tray of breakfast goodies over to the visitor center yesterday morning.
Parker said they appreciate the support they’ve gotten from the city, and the volunteers who gave their time to fill in while the visitor center was closed.
“Our mission is to protect the parks and serve the visiting public in perpetuity,” Parker said. “... We’re looking forward to getting back to normal and having the park open seven days a week to serve visitors.”
The U.S. House and Senate voted late Wednesday night to end the shutdown that began Oct. 1 when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use must-pass funding legislation to derail the president’s landmark health care law.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.