Submitted by Anne H. Oman
Reporter at Large
Think our tight little island escaped the impact of the shutdown of the federal government Tuesday?
Well, not entirely.
For example, if you were going to join the Walkin’ Nassau hike around Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island Saturday, you’ll want to make other plans. Since it’s a National Park Service property, the plantation and its grounds are closed to the public until Congress gets its act together and funds the government.
Members of the group got an email from Jane Bailey, who chairs member service, informing them the walk was cancelled due to the shutdown.
“I went on their website when I heard all the National Parks were closing, “ said Ms. Bailey. “We’ll reschedule at a later date. All are walks are planned through December.”
Well, maybe by that time…..
Dyanne Hughes, the group’s president said there was “no choice but to cancel since it might even be considered trespassing if we went into the park during this time. Our group was really looking forward to this walk because it also included the Harvest Day festivities.”
Cumberland Island National Seashore, the federal property to our north, also shut down Tuesday, and the main economic impact of that closure fell on St. Mary’s, Georgia.
Angela Wigger, Director of Tourism for the St. Mary’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, reported that the closure of the national seashore – and of the National Park Service museum and visitor center in St. Mary’s as well as the ferry – “has definitely had a negative impact.”
“Cumberland Island is the biggest reason people from out of town come here,” she said. “They want to see the horses and the history and they want to visit when the weather is enjoyable. October is one of the peak months for hotels and shops…..This is bad not only for the National Park Service staff and Lang’s, which runs the ferry. It’s also bad for restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, shops….”
But it has boosted business at the St. Mary’s welcome center.
“We’ve had a busy day giving people other options,” said Ms. Wigger. “We’re sending them to parks like Crooked River and Amelia.”
Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, could not speak specifically about Cumberland Island and Kingsley Plantation but reported that they are two of the 401 National Park properties closed nationwide. Visitors to these 401 sites spend $76 million per day in nearby communities, and the shutdown is costing the park service $450,000 per day in lost fees.
Is this is good way to reduce the deficit or what?
According to Gil Langley, President and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, the economic impact on our own community has been minimal.
“Fortunately for us, the parks on the island are run by the municipality, the county, or the state,” said Mr. Langley. “The hotels do a little government business, but only a few offer a government rate. And so far, I haven’t heard any complaints.”
People who want to experience Cumberland do have two other options: They can take a cruise with Amelia River Cruises from Fernandina Beach for a good look at – though not a landing on – the pristine island. Or they can book a stay or a meal at the Greyfield Inn, which is privately run and not part of the National Seashore.
Our guests are not affected by the shutdown,” said Linda Howison, a Greyfield Inn employee. “They have access to everything, except the buildings, such as the museum.”
And since the horses run wild and forage for their own food, they are not affected either.
Editor’s Note: Anne H. Oman recently relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications.
October 3, 2013 7:00 p.m.