With the federal government shut down as of midnight, all national parks closed on Saturday. Visitors to national parks in the Philadelphia region were left wondering what that means.
Of course, you can’t close a public park, but all services stopped. That means in Valley Forge, for example, the trails remain open but there is no one to pick up the trash or open the buildings and bathrooms.
At the much more urban Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, all federal buildings were closed and park rangers were not present, with the exception of those deemed “essential.” On Saturday morning, that meant a single, uniformed U.S. ranger on a bicycle interacting with the public.
Independence Mall is a hodgepodge of federal and private historic sites and museums. So, for example, the Betsy Ross House was open, the Ben Franklin museum was not. The Museum of the American Revolution was open, Carpenter’s Hall was not.
Open: the National Constitution Center, American Philosophical Society, and City Tavern.
Closed: Franklin Printing Office, the Portrait Gallery of the 2nd Bank of the U.S., and the Edgar Allan Poe house 10 blocks away, north of Spring Garden Street.
The Visitors Center was open; it is inside a National Park Service building but operated by its own nonprofit corporation. The NPS scotch-taped paper signs to the doors, warning people that the NPS will not provide any visitor services during the shutdown, including offering educational tours, issuing permits, or collecting trash.
“Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk,” it read.
The visitor center staff — who are not employees of the park service — explained to quizzical tourists why half the attractions were closed, gamely suggesting they visit non-NPS sites or open-air attractions like the President’s House or Elfreth’s Alley.
To catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell, people had to line up outside the pavilion and take turns pressing their phone cameras to the glass.
That’s what Dino Stanley did. He had just driven to Philadelphia with his two sons from Charleston, West Virginia.
“We came for two reasons,” he said, wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey. One of his sons had donned an Eagles jersey. “The first and main reason was the football game, the NFC championship. The second reason, we really wanted to take in the sights about the history of our country.”
After arriving at their hotel Friday night, Stanley said they “feverishly” watched TV to get updates on the looming shutdown. In the morning they learned their sightseeing plans were dashed. “We’re going to walk around and visualize from the outside,” said Stanley.
Another couple staying in Philadelphia, James Manning and Erica Hynds, came for the Sunday football game and decided to make a weekend out of it. Their plan: play it loose.
“We honestly had no idea what was going on. We’re just winging it,” said Hynds, having just left the Liberty Bell window and wandering north.
“Regardless of the shutdown, we’re taking in the sites of Philly since we’ve never been here before,” he said.