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Tourists frustrated, vacations fizzle with shutdownOriginally Published October 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 9, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
Mary Betuur peers through the front door of the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center at the Lamar Bathhouse, which has been closed because of the federal government shutdown. Betuur and her husband, Oliver, were visiting from France and said they were disappointed to find so many facilities closed.
Dennis and Jimie Driskill of Wichita, Kan., will always remember their vacation of 2013. It won’t be a happy memory, but they will always remember.
“We drove over 1,000 miles to visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park (in Tennessee), only to find it closed,” Jimie said. “Then we headed to Hot Springs and hoped the parks would be open by the time we got here, but we find the same thing.”
Dennis said the couple had planned all year for this vacation to the two national parks, but the timing turned out to coincide with the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, and that includes the national parks.
“We paid for a tour to ride through the Smokies, but that was canceled,” he said. “Of course, the [Blue Ridge] Parkway was open, and it is not like you could not see the mountains.”
The couple were walking along Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs wondering what was open.
“It looks like the visitor center is closed,” Jimie said. “I wanted to visit the hot springs.”
They were told they could take the Grand Promenade that leads from Reservation Street across Hot Springs Mountain to the Arlington Lawn, since those areas are no longer closed with barricades.
National Park workers had placed barricades at the Arlington Lawn and the Grand Promenade on Oct. 1 after Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez had been notified that the government was to be shut down.
“We had only four hours to secure the buildings, give a furlough notice to employees and make sure that everything that we needed to do prior to the leaving was done,” Fernandez said earlier this week.
Two days later, the barricades were removed because would-be visitors were paying them no heed.
“We had a bunch of people taking down the barricades and throwing them about,” Fernandez said. “We don’t have the staffing or actually the inclination to be playing games with people. As open spaces, people can just walk around the lawn and the promenade, but the park is closed. The campground is closed. The trails through the park are closed.”
The road up the mountain that leads to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower is closed, so the tower is also closed.
With the park service visitor center at the Lamar Bathhouse closed, the Driskills were unable to get official information about where they could go to experience the park. Dennis said people they encountered on the sidewalk in front of the park headquarters told them about the promenade walkway and the public water faucets where they tasted the 140-degree water.
“It has no taste,” Jimie said. “I had water at other hot springs, and it always tastes like sulfur.”
Dennis said the water from the faucet was so hot he could hardly hold it, but he said he was impressed with how clean it tasted.
Standing outside the Lamar, trying to see through the glass of the locked front doors, was Mary Betuur, visiting from a suburb of Paris with her husband, Oliver. The couple said they had been told how interesting a visit to Hot Springs would be, but when they arrived, they learned about the shutdown.
“I’m disappointed that everything is closed,” Oliver said. “We have deficits in France, but we do not shut down the government. I don’t understand.”
Outside the Hale Bathhouse, Tom and Elaine Blakeman of Houston were reading the plaque placed near the sidewalk that provides information about the Hale.
“We were visiting friends in Hot Springs Village and checking things out there, and I wanted to see Hot Springs, too,” Tom said. “We are not really getting to see the park, but the whole government hasn’t shut down — not yet, anyway.”
The shutdown has already canceled a major step for the national park. The Fordyce Bath House, closed since Oct. 1, 2012, was scheduled to reopen as the visitor center and offices for the National Park Service. A grand opening was planned for Monday, but those plans are on hold. The bathhouse was closed for year-long renovations, including replacement of the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems.
The leased bathhouses remain open, including the Superior Bathhouse Brewery & Distillery, which opened early this year. On Monday, the beer-tasting room was busy with customers, while owner Rose Cranson was working in the back of the bathhouse, where she is preparing to brew beer for sale in the front.
“We just opened this year, so I don’t have figures on how we are doing since the park closed,” Cranson said. “On one hand, people are still in the park and coming in, but on the other hand, we don’t know how many visitors were planning to come but didn’t.”
She said that while business is good, she has some concerns about any maintenance programs with the bathhouse, which was built in 1916, and with law enforcement.
“I know there are only a few park rangers around, but we have not had a problem,” she said. “If we needed a fast response, I would be worried, but we can also call on the city police, I think.”
The brewery has a special event planned this weekend, and Cranson said that might be a good indication of how business is doing with the park closed.
“We have a good local following, and it’s growing, so we are OK.”
Meanwhile, both the Blakemans and the Driskills plan to see Hot Springs for a few days and were planning on then visiting the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Library in Little Rock. It is also closed during the shutdown.
Staff member Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.