EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 1, 2013

Shutdown could put crimp in fall tourism

Staff and news service reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Though Cape Cod beaches would remain open for those who can get there and through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail might be able to continue their treks through the Berkshires, federal phones would go unanswered and padlocks would greet visitors to national parks throughout Massachusetts if Congress does not pass a spending bill.

“You’ll find padlocks on the doors to the monuments,” Sean Hennessey, public affairs officer for the Boston National Historic Park, said yesterday as a federal government shutdown loomed.

He said the Boston office employs about 100 people and all but about 15 staff, generally law enforcement, would be furloughed in the event of a federal government shutdown.

With a threatened shutdown looming, federal parks throughout the region face the possibility of closing just as the fall tourism season hits a peak.

One of the hardest hit would be Salem, where doors would be locked at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which greets 250,000 visitors every October for the Halloween season.

Of immediate concern was the Salem Regional Visitor Center on New Liberty Street, the first stop for many tourists. Last year it handled more than 3,000 visitors a day.

Less clear is what will happen at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newbury. The Department of the Interior reported that all parks and refuges will be closed, with access to property limited. Calls placed to the refuge headquarters yesterday were not answered or returned. The refuge operates an extensive wildlife sanctuary on Plum Island and in the Great Marsh that draws 250,000 visitors a year, as well as a visitor center on Plum Island Turnpike.

In New Hampshire at the White Mountain National Forest headquarters, employees had been preparing since Friday for a shutdown.

“There remains a lot of uncertainty,” said Tiffany Benna, the public affairs officer for the forest. “We are very concerned about what effects it might have on the public and for the businesses whose livelihood depends on the forest.”

Benna said the shutdown would come at a tough time.

“Many people come up here during foliage season,” she said. “This is our biggest season to continue doing construction contracts and start securing timber sales contracts.”

Benna said all 120 employees are being told to report to work today, no matter what happens.

“It may just be to close things down,” she said. “It depends what direction we are given.”

Gov. Deval Patrick said the shutdown is a “foolish” thing that would hamper the parks, services for people who receive a range of government benefits and the civilian military.

“A government shutdown is an avoidable and foolish thing, and I hope that the hard right gets responsible before the end of the day,” Patrick told reporters yesterday. Asked what the implications would be next year, an election year, Patrick said, “I hope that there are consequences for it. But I don’t know. American politics is still something I’m learning.”

Later in the afternoon, Patrick said, “I don’t think there’s a citizen who ought not be seriously dismayed by the willingness of a small group of radical right-wing Tea Party members to drive the economy and the country over a cliff.”

Massachusetts has 15 national parks which pour millions of dollars into the tourism economy. Travelers to Massachusetts in 2011 spent $17.7 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The national parks in Massachusetts generated $432 million in “economic benefit” in 2011, and about 10.5 million people visited the state’s national parks in 2012, according to the National Park Service.

The national parks serve state residents as well, as school groups connect to the state’s history and natural landscape by visiting parks, such as the Saugus Ironworks, commemorating 17th century industry along the Saugus River, and preserved relics from the Industrial Revolution at Lowell National Historic Park and the old industrial waterways of the Blackstone River Valley.

Other impacts could include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for low-income seniors.

“There is not going to be an immediate impact on the WIC program. We have some funding that was unspent from last year,” said Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire’s Director of Public Health. “We can cover it for several more weeks until we can get the authorization to spend again.”

But the senior food program would take an immediate hit. That’s government commodity food that seniors pick up at distribution centers.

“That program doesn’t have carryover funding. It will end,” Montero said. “We have food already purchased which should help us for about a week.”

Also impacted would be the Head Start prekindergarten program for low-income families.

“Only 23 of the 1,600 Head Starts in the nation were slated to receive funding for October,” said Kenneth Wolfe, public affairs officer for the Administration for Children and Families. “None of those are in New Hampshire.”

Material from the State House News Service report was included in this report. Staff writer Alex Lippa contributed to this report.