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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Vermont's Only National Park Shuts Down

Among the 401 national parks closed Tuesday because of the government shutdown is the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National  Park in Woodstock. It’s the only national park in Vermont, and a popular destination  for foliage tourists.

Normally on a picture perfect fall day, the parking lot and trails would be chock full of visitors enjoying 550 acres of rolling pastures, hills, and woods. Many would pay eight dollars for a guided tour of the gracious Victorian mansion that was once home to all three families for whom the park is named.  Christina Marts, Assistant Superintendent, shows off  the gracious front porch overlooking spectacular foliage, where the rocking chairs are empty of visitors.

“And at this time of year the tours are completely full, we round them up every hour and we try to sneak them up on the half hour if they re completely booked,” Marts said.

But not today. Today there’s a “closed” sign at the entrance to the park. Even its website is shut down. Marts says almost all 26 employees will be furloughed indefinitely, after they finish  trying to reach groups who had booked tours here. Employees including Marts  don’t know if they will get back pay when business resumes. Marts says it’s unsettling.

“And even more so, the effects of the national park on the surrounding community can be huge,” she added.

A 2010  economic impact study showed that this park generates about 1.5 million dollars annually spent at nearby restaurants, stores and hotels.

But a few busses of tourists made it in under the wire on shutdown day--sort of. Although the national park is closed, it shares property with the privately owned and operated Billings Farm and Museum. Visitors can still tour the farm and farmhouse there, and activities on its website are going ahead as scheduled. That was some consolation for Don Grace, visiting from Australia—though he wanted to see the big mansion on federal property that is not open.

“Just to have a little bit of a look in there to see the drama that was going on in the family and to see how they lived,” Grace said while waiting for his tour bus to take his group to another attraction.

And speaking of drama, Sheila Taylor, visiting with her family from Georgia, doesn’t think much of the theatrics in Washington.

“I’ve never seen more bickering and arguing from government officials in my life,” she lamented.

Taylor is particularly angry because she had a tearful phone call that morning from her daughter back home, a federal worker who has been told not to expect a paycheck this week.

But Taylor and fellow travelers say they will make the most of their time in Vermont, noting that there’s plenty to see and do here beyond the National Park.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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