Government shutdown impacts tourism at Flight 93 National Memorial, Fort Necessity
Eric Martin of Ohiopyle refunded $14,000 on Sunday to a group of bicyclists, some from out-of-state, who had signed up for a trip to Gettysburg with Wilderness Voyageurs, his Fayette County business.
“It's a big inconvenience,” Martin said.
The government shutdown furlough, which affects about 50 National Park Service workers at five sites in Western Pennsylvania, has stopped some tourists in their tracks.
And it's a big hit to their revenue, say business owners who rely on travelers to stop for lunch or stay overnight near those sites.
As fall foliage season begins, tourists planning trips for sightseeing or outdoors activities are finding national parks closed or are changing their travel plans. Some are not sure whether parks and other sites are operated by the federal government, the state or are privately owned.
“It does have an impact on tourism,” said Julie Donovan, vice president of public relations for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which added a notice on its website this week to alert potential visitors to closed sites.
The greatest impact is on the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County and Fort Necessity in Fayette County, Donovan said. Both sites draw a steady stream of large groups, she said. Although the Great Allegheny Passage is not directly impacted by the shutdown, a trail running through a federal park that connects the passage with Washington is closed.
“We don't see where anyone is canceling their plans; they're just changing,” Donovan said.
“Fortunately, we have so many other sites in the region to direct them to.”
Scores of tourists since the Oct. 1 shutdown have found the entrance gates closed at the Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville, where they wanted to pay respects to the 40 passengers and crew members who died when a hijacked commercial airliner crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We all love the United States. It's something we wanted to see,” said Bob Martin of Lake Elsinore, Calif. He said he was disappointed to find the memorial off-limits earlier this month when he visited with his brothers, Daniel Martin of Northfield, Minn.; Fred Martin of Corvallis, Mont.; and Ed Martin of Latrobe.
“We wanted to honor the people on that plane,” said Fred Martin.
Other visitors that day came from West Virginia, Massachusetts and Texas.
Ruth Murphy of Fort Pierce, Fla., camped near Bedford the previous night and said the memorial was on her itinerary of historic sites. She said the park staff should not be considered nonessential employees.
“Patriotism is essential to our country,” she said.
Many bus tours to the Flight 93 site stop at the Coal Miners Café along Route 30, 10 miles from the park, for a meal or to spend the night, said Betty Rhoads, who owns the restaurant and hotel with her husband, John.
Business has slowed since Oct. 1 as tours and room reservations were canceled, she said. As a result, about 20 employees had their hours cut.
“That is my bread and butter,” Rhoads said of the memorial, noting a trickle-down effect. “The tour guides lose, the bus driver loses, gas stations lose. We lost business, our servers lost tips.”
Bob Mock, tour coordinator for Bollman Charter Service in Bedford County, said a church group of 40 from Chambersburg canceled Tuesday morning.
The Oct. 15 trip included a visit to the national memorial, the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel, the Coal Miners Café, the Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown and the gristmill at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Mock said.
The cancellation meant a $2,000 loss for the charter service, he said.
“We were very disappointed. That's a major loss for us,” Mock said. “We use the Coal Miners Café quite a bit. They can't afford (these losses) either.”
Bicyclists planning fall trips on the Great Allegheny Passage have called the Allegheny Trail Alliance, worried that they can't reach Washington, Linda McKenna Boxx, alliance president, said.
“It puts us in an awkward position,” she said.
The GAP trail hooks up in Maryland with the C&O Canal Towpath, which bicyclists follow into Washington. The towpath is closed because it is part of a national park.
Martin, of Wilderness Voyageurs, said he has amended a Pittsburgh-to-Washington bike tour along the paths to detour the closure.
“We're making do and making changes,” he said.
Several state park managers said they've taken phone calls asking if they're open.
“They're always very relieved,” said Dustin Drew, manager of McConnells Mill and Moraine state parks in Butler County. “Our operation isn't affected by it.”
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy took a “proactive” approach by announcing on a webpage for Fallingwater that the Fayette County architectural gem is unaffected by the shutdown, said Allison Schlesinger, conservancy director of communications.
At the Coal Miners Café, a busload of tourists from Philadelphia scheduled to visit the national memorial had to settle for a look around the restaurant's Flight 93 tribute room, Rhoads said.
“It was our way of saying we are sorry for what the government does. … It's embarrassing. I feel bad,” she said. “People are going to see Flight 93 (memorial) because it's something very special to them.”
Renatta Signorini and Mary Pickels are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Signorini can be reached at 724-837-5374 or email@example.com. Pickels can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.