Government reopening sees Pa. parks, offices abuzz

PHILADELPHIA - October 17, 2013

Barricades at Gettysburg National Military Park and Valley Forge National Historical Park were removed Thursday morning. A few hours later, Philadelphia's famed historical attractions followed suit and began admitting visitors for the first time since the shutdown began Oct. 1.

"So here we are, and luck would be in our favor that we finally got the open doors to come and see all these great sites in Philadelphia," said Leslie Sworsky, a teacher from St. Francis, Minn., as she waited for the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to reopen.

In Pottsville, the shutdown's end was a relief for James Ulrich, an unemployed 19-year-old who needed a replacement Social Security card but had been unable to get one from the local Social Security office.

"They just said, 'We're not issuing new or (replacement) Social Security cards right now, so you're going to have to wait until the government's back up and running.' ... So we waited until last night, when we heard it was open, and rushed over here this morning," he said.

Ulrich's old Social Security card had been lost during a move. Lacking a replacement, he has been unable to apply for jobs.

"Pretty frustrating, because I know I can work," said Ulrich, a high school dropout who needs a job while he studies for his GED.

Adding insult to injury, Ulrich was told Thursday that a replacement card would take another two weeks to arrive. So, in all, his job search will have been delayed more than a month.

"I don't have a really good outlook on the government," he said.

Farther south in Valley Forge, a sign declared "Welcome Back!" to visitors and returning federal employees alike. At Gettysburg, park ranger and management assistant Katie Lawhon said the historic battlefield and the Eisenhower National Historic Site had reopened.

With tourism its No. 1 industry, the Gettysburg region could ill afford a prolonged shutdown, especially this year, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

"With each day the shutdown was in effect, businesses in Adams County suffered more," said Norris Flowers, president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We are thrilled to have these historic sites open again."

He said the visitors bureau had promoted other attractions during the shutdown in an attempt to lure tourists.

"While many cancellations did occur during the past two weeks, we were happy to see so many visitors in town, taking advantage of the many experiences this destination has to offer," he said.

At Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, one couple's long wait to see the sites finally drew to a close.

Karen and Richard Dodds of Oklahoma City, Okla., are on a quest to see every national park in the U.S. The retired couple arrived in Philadelphia about three weeks ago in their motor home, visiting Valley Forge National Park just before the shutdown.

They've stayed in the area since, hoping the government would reopen so they could see Philly's historical attractions before they had to head back home this weekend.

Karen Dodds said she expects to see government gridlock again in a few months.

"They didn't solve anything by this," she said of the temporary agreement in Washington. "The worst part is they'll do it again in January and February."


Associated Press writers Ron Todt and Matt Moore in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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