But the partial government shutdown cast a shadow over the day.
So far, the Smithsonian Institution’s museums, research center and zoo have been spared the shutdown that furloughed thousands of federal workers. But if the shutdown continues beyond New Years Day, all Smithsonian institutions will close, excluding visitors from tourism mainstays like the National Zoo, National Museum of American History and National Museum of History and of African-American culture. The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice rink, where visitors can skate in the shade of the National Archives building, will also close.
“We have no control over that,” said Linda St. Thomas, spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution.
She lamented that the closures are sure to disappoint visitors next week, many of whom make visiting free museums a central part of their trips to the nation’s capital. Tourists are often keen to see the 45-carat Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History or the Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.
“The Smithsonian museums are a big part of a person’s trip to Washington,” St. Thomas said. Luckily, it’s low season, she said, so a closure will affect far fewer travelers.
The partial shutdown is expected to be one of the longest in history, the result of a standoff between President Trump, who is demanding billions for a border wall, and congressional Democrats, who refuse to authorize funding. There were few signs the shutdown would end anytime soon, with Trump tweeting threats to close the entire southern border if he did not secure funding for the wall. Lawmakers are not expected to return until at least January 2.
The shutdown has meant about 800,000 federal workers are without a paycheck over the holiday season, putting many low-wage workers in economic peril.
The Smithsonian is expected to be the latest tourist victim of the closure, which has also suspended work for the National Park Service. This meant that hikers in Great Falls Park in Virginia were locked out of park restrooms and rescue and emergency services were limited. At California’s Joshua Tree National Park, the holiday season is the busiest time of year with families camping and rock climbing.
But this year rangers were sent home and volunteers bought and restocked toilet paper and even scrubbed toilets. A camper raised an American flag upside down in a sign of distress.
Bruce Damon, owner of Nomad Ventures, a backpacking supply store that works in the park, said that since the government shutdown “people have volunteered to keep the park clean because of the toilet situation.”
“It feels like we’re just pawns,” Damon said. “The parks are so underfunded they feel like such a slap in the face.”
He said they were selling “swirl bags” at cost, which allows volunteers and campers to clean up litter.
There’s also been a slew of illegal camping practices and visitors putting Christmas lights around the endangered Joshua trees they’re supposed to leave untouched, said Joe De Luca, who started a group called Climbers. ‘Collective.
He said he was convinced the park should be closed.
“Closing Joshua Tree during the busiest part of the year would upset people . . . so it’s open unstaffed, and 90 percent is doing well, but 10 percent is damaging a delicate environment,” De Luca said.
The Smithsonian Institution employs about 4,000 federal workers, many of whom will be laid off after Jan. 1, joining the 350,000 others who have gone off the job since the shutdown began. As in other federal departments, essential staff will remain in place.
At the National Zoo, that means keepers – including vets and nutritionists – will remain on hand for lions, tigers, bears and other creatures. Museum security personnel will also remain on duty, as will the approximately 2,000 Smithsonian employees whose work is not federally funded.
Lucy Asmat, a 53-year-old nurse from Lima, Peru, watched prairie dogs emerge from dirt holes in their mound-like habitat on Saturday. She said a shutdown would be deeply disappointing for tourists who have traveled great distances to see Washington.
“I understand there are priorities,” Asmat said. Attractions “are not just for Americans. They are for foreigners, like us, who want to see all the great things you have in the United States. The wall should not be a priority.
Heather Randell, 35, came to the zoo on Saturday with her husband and 7-month-old son Jules. Randell, an environmental sociologist at the University of Maryland, said he was concerned about a potential zoo closure, but not as much as other consequences of the closure, such as federal employees going without paychecks.
“I care more about inaction than environmental issues,” Randell said.
Some tourists enjoying the very attractions that could close on Wednesday said they support the president’s position on the wall, even if it means they will have to change their itinerary.
Ralph Pariente Jr., who traveled from Miami, explored the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden with his wife and 10-year-old son, their necks wrapped in an American flag scarf. He said he supports Trump and believes the border wall is necessary to stop or slow down illegal immigration.
“I agree with the closure,” Pariente said. “I feel bad for the employees who are not being paid. . . . But nothing is ever done. »