The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 17, 2013

National parks, monuments reopen

David Hurst

— Visitors were once again touring the St. Michael site where the South Fork Dam broke in 1889, and snapping photos today at the sacred land where United Airlines Flight 93 fell on Sept. 11, 2001.

And for the first time in more than two weeks, it was business as usual for National Park Service Deputy Superintendent Keith Newlin and 60 fellow full-time workers in the western Pennsylvania regional office that oversees those parks and three others.

“We’re back to work,” Newlin said Thursday morning, not long after approval was given to lift the gates at the National Flood Memorial, Flight 93 National Memorial, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site and more than 55 other parks across the country.

Parks across the region – and many more throughout the nation – reopened at 9 a.m. after Congress sent legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk.

After 16 days of bickering and blame, it was about time, Marilyn Catlett, of Nebraska, said.

“Once these men and women get to Congress they should forget which party they belong to and be Americans,” Catlett said, while awaiting a Johnstown Flood documentary to begin inside the National Flood Memorial.

“We’re rolling,” a park deputy said, moments after doing some minor repair work on the visitor center’s projector, which had been idle since Sept. 30.

Talitha Catlett of Nebraska said she hoped to take her grandparents, Marilyn and Larry, to the area’s other parks this week.

No such luck, she said.

“Today’s their last day. At least we got to visit here,” she said, calling the Flood Memorial her favorite park.

Behind her, a small but steady flow of visitors walked into the theater room around 10:30 a.m.

Many major parks were busy across the nation this morning.

Staff removed barricades at Valley Forge National Historic Park, The Associated Press reported. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center opened at noon.

Closer to home, Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Point Marion, Fayette County, and Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington, Fayette County – the two other parks under the western region’s management – also reopened at 8 a.m.

Newlin said thousands of people likely lost the chance to visit the western Pennsylvania parks over the past weeks. Flight 93 alone averages about 7,000 visitors on October weekends, he said.

“But we’re excited. The parks were in good shape when we returned,” he said.

Law enforcement continued making rounds while the parks were shuttered to ensure they were protected, “so we pretty much just had to brush off some leaves and open the doors.”

“We’re excited to get back to work,” Newlin said.

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter. com/tddavidhurst.