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Students’, residents’ trips to national landmarks go on despite the shutdown

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Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 12:00 am

The government shutdown didn’t prevent Galt middle school students from boarding a plane Sunday for their annual Washington, D.C. trip, although they won’t be able to visit the nation’s Capitol, as it is closed for public tours.

“The trip is still on, with reduced access to certain locations but other locations substituted instead,” Superintendent Karen Schauer said in an email. “A new itinerary was developed just in case.”

Other locals haven’t been so lucky, as the shutdown extends into its third week today.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees estimated that as of last week, more than 7 million visitors had been barred from national parks due to the shutdown, resulting in the loss of an estimated $750 million in visitor spending.

Among those was Leslie Crosby.

For the past two years, the Woodbridge resident had been planning an RV trip to Yellowstone National Park with six other families.

“We had to alter our plans almost immediately,” Crosby said Monday.

The group of 14 adults and 20 children was in Yellowstone on Sept. 30 when they were told they had 48 hours to vacate due to the partial government closure.

“We were lucky in the sense that because we had camping reservations within the park, we were already in the gates,” Crosby said. “Other people who were staying in hotels in the surrounding areas weren’t allowed in at all. We had some time to explore the park as best we could from trucks and behind barricades.”

According to a survey conducted by the National Tour Association last week, 82 percent of members said they had made changes to itineraries to accommodate closed national parks, museums or monuments; 46 percent reported customers canceling because of the closures; and 26 percent said they had been forced to postpone tours until the federal government reopened its most popular attractions.

In Lodi Unified, a fifth-grade class from Reese Elementary had their field trip to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory canceled. Employees at the federal research center are expected to be furloughed today.

However, a group of Tokay High students led by teacher Jeff Tracy visited the nation’s capital during the district’s fall break last week despite some closures.

But former Lodi residents Ken and Bess Morris have cut short their month-long trip of a lifetime to D.C. due to the shutdown. Arriving just two days before the Oct. 1 closures, they were unable to visit the National Zoo or Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. They planned to spend a month there and had rented an apartment.

“My dad said he will never get to see the things he wanted to,” Kristy Lewis, Morris’ daughter, said of her 75-year-old parents. “They also said that all of the restrooms on the mall by the monuments were closed, so men were just urinating in a little alcove.”

Like others, the couple admitted that they went around barricades to catch a glimpse of some of the nation’s monuments. Ken Morris, a former Brannan Island park ranger, said it took more people to keep the monuments closed than open.

They also noticed the scores of schoolchildren.

“Those poor parents paid for a trip for their kids, and they didn’t get to see all of the historical places they were supposed to learn about,” Lewis quoted her mother as saying.

“She was frustrated and disappointed,” she said. “Then, of course, everyone is angry.”

Today, the Galt students will be visiting the Embassy of Japan, touring the National Cathedral and walking through Georgetown. The alternative schedule was finalized Friday, McCaffrey Middle School Principal Ron Rammer said.

Those changes were handled by Lisa Mariel Gautier of Washington Workshops Foundation, who has had to alter four different schedules for schools during the last two weeks, including high school students from California and two groups of middle school students from Hawaii and Pennsylvania.

“Both of the groups that came last week, while originally disappointed ... actually left quite exhilarated because the different opportunities the modified schedule provided,” Gautier said in an email, adding that the Hawaii group received a Capitol tour led by their actual senator. “In all, the fact that our organization has been in the educational tourism business for almost 50 years has provided us with great contacts and knowledge of Washington, D.C. and all the resources it possesses.”

Rammer said that if the federal government reopens, the group will go back to the same itinerary they follow each year.

“Things are organized and should go great no matter what the feds do,” he said.

The decision to still visit Washington, D.C. was made last week when parents and school administration met to discuss options. Rammer reported that even with a full refund offered, no parents opted their students out of the trip despite the itinerary changes, according to Schauer.

Crosby’s group, too, never considered canceling their Yellowstone trip.

“We were willing to wait it out as long as possible,” she said. “We held out hope that the shutdown would only last a few days, and then we’d be able to go back to our planned itinerary.”

For two weeks, they changed their plans every few days trying to keep their seven trailers as close to the park’s entrance as possible — but they never got back in.

“We absolutely were disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the national parks like we were expecting to. ... But we made the most of a bad situation. We opted to do things we wouldn’t have done and because of that got to experience some really amazing things,” Crosby said. “In all it wasn’t what we planned, but we still had an amazing adventure.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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