Last fall, when visitors came to Independence National Historical Park, it was closed -- a victim of the federal budget crisis, which left the park without funds. Since then, 11 of the parks' 19 buildings have opened, but federal budget restraints have kept the remaining eight shut since October. But these too shall reopen this spring, leaving the park fully open and in good repair for the summer celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. In addition to the eight closed buildings, the roof of Independence Hall leaked and part of the park, at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge, was unattended and appeared unkempt. In fact, there had been a sign on the block saying "Dangerous, walk at your own risk" because roots of trees had forced up the stones of the walkway. But because of public outcry, funds were made available to make the repairs by spring. According to park Superintendent Hobart Cawood, park officials anticipated that they would only be able to operate the park for a portion of the fiscal year, starting last October, because of cuts within the national budget. If park officials wanted the park to be open during the busy season this summer, they would have had to close down in the colder months. Cawood said the park chose eight buildings to close during the winter -- building which generally receive fewer visitors. "We couldn't afford to close the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall," Cawood said. The public responded to the closings by writing letters to the park and telephoning their congressmen. Reporters for The Wall Street Journal and Historical News, a newsletter for the National Trust Historical Preservation, wrote articles about the closing of the buildings and the needed repairs. In response to public outcry, U.S. Representative Tom Foglietta (D-Phila.) arranged to secure funding to save the leaking roof of Independence Hall and to obtain operating funds for the park beyond the amount listed in President Bush's budget, according to Rebecca Tepper, a legislative assistant for Foglietta. With Foglietta's lobbying, Congress appropriated $653,800 for the park while the National Park Service gave $300,000 for repair and operating costs. Cawood said that the entire park will now be open for the upcoming fiscal year and will receive more money than Bush recommended in his budget. But Cawood said tourism has been slow this winter season, down 13 percent compared with last January. Tom Davies, Visual Information Specialist at the park, cited several reasons for the slow season, including the Persian Gulf war, fear of terrorism, recession, and the closing of the buildings. According to Davies, approximately 1.5 million tourists visited the park during 1990. Students reported mixed reactions about the reopenings. College freshman Peter Goffstein said that he supported the funding to reopen park buildings. "We definitely need it opened, because the park is part of our nation's history and Americans should be proud of this history. We need a lot of nationalism now in this time of war," Goffstein said. However, Rick Chadha, a College senior, said he understood the need to cut back during a time of strained federal funds. "I think it is great the park is reopening, but it's not that bad that the park was closed down," Chadha said. "It is all a matter of priority where the national government allots its money." On February 17, the Second Bank of the United States, one of the eight buildings closed last October, will reopen with an exhibit celebrating 18th century painter Charles Wilson Peale in "Portraits in a Capital City." The rest of the buildings will open in mid-April. In addition, Cawood said, the roof of Independence Hall will be fixed and the third block will be made safer and walkable by April.Comments powered by Disqus
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