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Shutdown to affect more than just government

Nick Prete/SHFWire
People visit the Natural History Museum before its likely closing due to the government shutdown.

Editor’s note: This story was written Sept. 30. Due to the subject matter, some facts may have changed since the time it was written.

WASHINGTON — Visitors to Washington may not think a government shutdown will affect them, but if they plan to visit the monuments, museums or see the Constitution, they’d be wrong.

The shutdown, which appeared all but certain to happen as of late Monday, would mean the closing of a large number of tourist attractions, including the Smithsonian Institution museums.

“We do know what will happen,” Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, said. “We’ll be closed.”

The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo attracted 30 million visitors last year.

People from all over the world visit Washington to see the monuments, and many won’t have the opportunity to due to the shutdown.

“I’d be extremely disappointed, because I’ve only got two more days here on my visit and what I do mostly is go to the museums,” Roberta Kimmel, a visitor from Boulder, Colo., said.

The District welcomed a record 17.9 million visitors (including 1.8 million international visitors) in 2011, according to Destination DC, an organization that is funded in part by the District hotel tax. Tourism generated an estimated $6 billion in spending for the city alone.

Some businesses could benefit from the potential shutdown, such the private International Spy Museum.

We really have to look at the silver lining here, for us,” Jason Werden, of the Spy Museum, said. “We are excited to bring in more visitors while our doors remain open.”

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park will be closed to the public during a government shutdown, but it will retain essential staff, including veterinarians and animal handlers. Other privately owned attractions feel the same way.

“We’re confident that just having our doors open will be enough to bring in people,” Mimi Carter, spokeswoman for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, said. “For us, it’s business as usual.”

The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but if a shutdown lasts until Wednesday, visitors can see exhibits about an alien’s guide to the future ruins of Washington and the museum’s reinstallation of part of its collection of paintings.

While the government can’t close the National Mall or keep people from visiting the open air monuments such as the Washington Monument (although trips to the top are off limits until damage from the 2011 earthquake is repaired) or the World War II Memorial, any national property with doors or gates around it will be closed to the public.

“Visitor centers would be closed and access to park areas denied, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Independence Hall, Alcatraz, and the Washington Monument,” the Department of the Interior said in a contingency plan updated Thursday.

“I think it’s a national shame,” Kimmel said. “Why can’t they just figure it out and move on?”

Nick Prete is a junior multimedia journalism major. He is currently participating in the Scripps Howard Foundation Semester in Washington program. He may be reached at [email protected].

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Shutdown to affect more than just government