October 1, 2013 / 12:44 AM / 5 years ago

Federal shutdown threatens hikers, pandas and Lady Liberty

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tourists may not understand how the federal government works, but could find out on Tuesday what happens when it doesn’t.

People gather at the giant panda exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The possible midnight Monday shutdown of the U.S. government amid a congressional budget battle will have serious consequences for the economy, including the more than 800,000 federal employees who will be sent home, and will jolt some of the more unusual bits of life in the United States.

Hikers headed into the wilds of Utah’s Zion National Park on Monday were warned to pack up their trail mix and head back to civilization within 48 hours, said Aly Baltrus, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Parks Service.

Closing the park, which draws 10,000 people on an average day, means ordering the guests at busy Zion Lodge to stay inside and off the trails where cougars, elk and black bear roam.

Zoo animals and the people who love them may feel the shutdown’s pinch.

“Panda cams will go dark for the public,” said an official at Washington’s National Zoo.

Cameras used to expose the secret lives of some 40 different types of animals are operated by federal employees, whose forced furlough would cut short the stardom of octopuses, orangutans, tigers and other animals.

At the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, California, run in part by foundation dollars, visitors would still be able to see the bed that Richard Nixon was born in, but would be blocked from viewing the bench he spent time sitting on during his college football years, said spokesman Tim Bruton.

Depending on how long a shutdown lasts, even a President Abraham Lincoln impersonator, scheduled for October 5, could be left at the locked gates of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia, said a park spokesman.

Outside the fortress-like ticket office for the Statue of Liberty, three people dressed in green gowns, crowns and fake torches who make their living posing for tourist photographs considered the upside of a government shutdown.

“More people take pictures with us when it’s closed,” said one of the Lady Liberty lookalikes, Frederick Helas, 47, of Brooklyn.

“I’m disappointed,” said Jitesh Shahani, 21, of Staten Island who hoped to escort his family visiting from India on a trip up the Statue of Liberty.

Instead, a government shutdown will keep the official ferry service, Statue Cruises LLC, from docking at Liberty Island and boats will be limited to sightseeing cruises past the Lady of the Harbor, said Rafael Abreu, the cruise company’s sales director.

The potential shutdown caps a tough couple of years for Lady Liberty, which has been opened just 13 weeks since being flooded and wrecked by Superstorm Sandy. Before the historic storm in October 2012 took her out of commission, the statue which draws 3.5 million visitors on a typical year had been open for a single day following a year-long renovation.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Dina Kyriakidou and L Gevirtz

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