Flight 93 National Memorial delays summer hours
The Flight 93 National Memorial and the other four national parks in Western Pennsylvania are trimming programs, staff and hours because of a 5 percent funding cut, a result of the federal sequester's automatic across-the-board spending cuts.
The cuts, which took effect March 1, will impact each park differently, said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent for National Parks of Western Pennsylvania.
“We will be offering fewer programs to the visitors,” Reinbold said. “We'll be revisiting our maintenance schedules of our grounds and of our historic buildings, so the public will see the changes in a variety of ways.”
Several vacant, permanent positions and some seasonal positions won't be filled, he said.
The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville in Somerset County will delay the switch to summer hours by one month.
Summer hours will begin May 1. The memorial will open daily at 9 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. with last entry at 6:30 p.m. In October, the memorial will revert to winter hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“The delay is part of the federal sequestration,” Reinbold said. “Because of the budget cuts, we'll have reduced support from our seasonal staff and so we've have to push the change to the summer hours back by a month.”
Part of the challenge is that park officials weren't given approval to hire seasonal staff until later than usual, he said. For those who were hired, “we're not able to bring them on until May,” he said.
Fewer programs for visitors will be offered at the Flight 93 memorial in the short term and likely through the summer, Reinbold said.
“Our staff will pull together, and we'll work with our volunteers to offer as many programs as we can within the budget we have,” he said.
The memorial, which is free to the public, serves as a tribute to the 40 people aboard United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, who fought back against terrorists on the plane, which crashed in Stonycreek Township. All aboard died.
Patrick White, vice president of Families of Flight 93, called the cuts “unfortunate” but said the group understands that “it has to be done.”
“We're just hopeful that this fiscal matter is going to be addressed quickly so the sequestration cuts do not continue,” said White, whose cousin Louis J. Nacke II was aboard the flight.
Gordon Felt, group president, said the park service will do its best to ensure the cuts impact the public as little as possible.
“I have the utmost confidence that they're going to stretch their dollars as much as they can to ensure that the public is still going to have a meaningful and emotional response to the memorial,” said Felt, whose brother Edward Felt was a Flight 93 passenger.
The tribute includes a 3 1⁄2-mile scenic drive that leads visitors from Route 30 to the crash site. Visitors can view an outdoor exhibit, the Wall of Names and the field where Flight 93 crashed.
The cuts come at a time when visitation to the memorial is “very high,” Reinbold said. Last year, nearly 320,000 people, more than double the average 130,000 annually, visited the temporary memorial.
“I think it really speaks to the power of the Flight 93 story and how it still resonates with people today,” Reinbold said. “We anticipate those numbers will remain strong. And when we open the visitors center in the spring of 2015, those numbers will probably even go higher.”
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.