Independence Hall, Valley Forge reopen as shutdown ends
Independence Hall and Valley Forge National Park reopened Thursday as furloughed federal workers returned to work following a 16-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government.
The end of the shutdown also brought workers back to jobs in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Army Corps of Engineers.
On Independence Mall, there was joy amid National Park Service workers who missed the jobs they love, and for tourists who found they had arrived right on time.
"We are open!" a park ranger said as he pushed aside the doors to the Liberty Bell pavilion at two minutes past noon. Independence Hall opened at the same time.
The Independence Visitor's Center opened first, at 8:30 a.m., while NPS staff spent the morning checking the plumbing and electrical systems in Independence National Park's historic buildings.
"Everybody's back to work," said Dave Fitzpatrick, president of Local 2058 of the American Federation of Government Employees. "We're thrilled."
Tourists felt the same, as school groups and families, worried they would miss out on historic highlights, found the mall open for business.
"Oh my God, it's awesome!" exulted 13-year-old Audrey Moon, who was visiting with a school group from Maryland and was among the first to see the reopened Liberty Bell.
Valley Forge signaled the end of the shutdown with an electric sign saying "Welcome Back!!!!"
There NPS workers Jeff Henry and Fred DellAngelo spent early Thursday morning removing about 40 barriers and collecting 200 traffic cones to open up the park to visitors.
They were met with "a lot of people beeping, waving, and thumbs up," said Henry. "They are glad we are back."
The park opened its trails and roads at 7 a.m., he said.
"I'm glad to be back," said Henry. "It was a little nerve-racking having a tenuous position."
The two will have their work cut out for them. There are two weeks of clearing leaves, cutting grass and minor repairs that need to be done to catch up.
"Nothing major," said DellAngelo.
Some repairs will be in an administrative office where squirrels came in through the roof and "made a mess," he said. The intruders probably would not have come into a building if workers had been there.
The closure of the park, a popular jogging site, prompted some protests during the shutdown.
In one of the protests, several dozen runners jogged more than five miles on the roads around the park on Sunday morning in what was dubbed a "Patriot's Run."
The runners were inspired after John Bell, a Chadds Ford marathoner, received a $100 ticket last week for jogging in the park during the closure.
"We actually felt bad having to keep people out of the park," said DellAngelo. "It wasn't our decision."
About 70 full-time staff work at the park.
The first group into the park consisted of 25 students and nine adults from the Lyman Gilmore Middle School in Gross Valley, Calif., who are on a tour of historic sites on the East Coast.
"We are incredibly happy to be able to come back to our own parks," said Scott Mills, an 8th grade teacher.
The group previously visited Washington and Gettysburg, where they went around barriers to get close to the sites.