Business as usual at federal sites

Visitors gladdened by shutdown that wasn’t

Gene and Kathy Hollis of South Portland, Maine, climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for their anniversary. Gene and Kathy Hollis of South Portland, Maine, climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for their anniversary. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / April 10, 2011

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Gene and Kathy Hollis of South Portland, Maine, savored the 294-step climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument yesterday, which would have been impossible had congressional Republicans and the White House not reached a tentative deal Friday night averting a government shutdown.

“We thought of going to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That was plan B, ’’ said Kathy Hollis, 60, speaking at the foot of the stone tower after the climb. “This is plan A.’’

Tourists yesterday visited some of the city’s most popular federally run destinations, such as the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument, mostly unfazed by the averted shutdown that could have sabotaged their plans.

“If it was shut down, we were going to walk by,’’ said Alex Arnold, leader of Boy Scout Troop 660 from Massapequa, N.Y., who visited Old Ironsides in Charlestown with 14 scouts in tow. “We were planning to do the Freedom Trail regardless.’’

The boom of musket fire and the piercing cadence of fife and drums rang through Minute Man National Historic Park in Lincoln as planned yesterday, as more than 50 reenactors and scores of onlookers gathered to commemorate the capture of Paul Revere during his ride from Boston.

“This was a nail-biter, right down to the 11th hour,’’ said Nancy Nelson, the park’s superintendent. “We were very concerned that these activities couldn’t go forward. This is one of our busiest times of year.’’

But some of the men wielding muskets had a revolutionary backup plan.

“One of the suggestions was to do it anyway, as rebellion,’’ said Bob Hicks, 60, whose wry smile peeked from below the brim of his tricorn hat. Reenactors in the Lincoln company and others who planned to participate exchanged a blast of e-mails Friday as the political drama unfolded. If federal employees were sent home, the companies planned to stage the ceremony on Lincoln Town Common, Steve McCarthy of the Lincoln Minutemen wrote.

“We’re all super-happy to be here,’’ said David Crisafi, a spokesman for the Lincoln Minutemen.

Onlookers were dismayed at the prospect of some of the country’s most cherished landmarks shutting down.

“I found it disturbing on the news that they showed the major national parks —Yellowstone, Yosemite,’’ said Joyce Gianfelice, a third-grade teacher at Northeast Elementary School in Waltham, adding that canceling the reenactment would have been “dreadful.’’

“I’m passionate about American history and passing it on to another generation,’’ she said.

Workers at the park echoed her sentiments, but said they were at the mercy of federal officials in Washington.

“We have no control if we came to work or not,’’ said Malka Benjamin, 26, an intern at Minute Man who spent Friday preparing signs and working out details ahead of the possible shutdown.

Perhaps most relieved yesterday was Laurel Beckstead, headmaster at the American Heritage Academy in Las Vegas.

As part of a faith-based private school that trumpets patriotism as a core value, Beckstead and 11 students on a 12-day “path of the patriots’’ tour that began in Boston this weekend attended the Paul Revere ceremony. Many of their destinations were national historic sites in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said Beckstead.

“It would have been disastrous for us,’’ she said.

Not every event could be salvaged. Concord officials canceled an annual commemoration of the clash between Colonial and British soldiers at Meriam’s Corner that helped spark the Revolutionary War.

Federal workers at some sites that were threatened with closure said they had prepared for the worst.

Vince Kordack, a 34-year veteran park ranger on duty in the Charlestown Navy Yard, said he recalled the last shutdown in 1995, which was more sudden and chaotic.

This time, he said, rangers came up with a contingency plan — a limited number of rangers would work one four-hour shift to post signs and direct people away from the park.

“They were prepared,’’ he said. “I was impressed.’’

Meanwhile, families of overseas military members said they were elated that the government will continue to operate.

“Thank God,’’ said Maureen Johnson of Abington, whose husband, Carl, is stationed in Iraq with the National Guard, said. “We’re on a tight budget because he’s on active duty. A shutdown would have definitely set us back.’’

Johnson, whose husband is on his fourth tour of duty, said the troops in her husband’s unit had been monitoring the budget battle back home online and were “livid.’’

“They are beside themselves,’’ she said. “They’re worried — ‘I have a wife.’ ‘I have a new baby.’ ’’ They shouldn’t have to stress about things like this when they’re doing such difficult jobs. Hopefully, it’s over now.’’

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.