The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic site opened its doors Thursday after 16 days shutdown as the federal government was back up and running.
Superintendent Judy Forte was on hand to welcome the first waves of visitors. “I’m back on the job and welcome to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are so excited.”
The site is funded by the national parks service, which was forced to close its doors and send its employees as a result of the government shutdown on Tuesday, Oct 1. Forte said she was glued to her television set last night as Congress voted to re-open the federal government.
“When I finally got the word, I was elated about coming back,” she said. “I contacted my staff and we sent out a message that the President had given orders for all of us to return to work.”
Her staff was incredulous at the news, Forte said. Forte received several happy emails following her announcement, including, “Is this for real?” and, “Good, we’ve got our bills to pay,” she said.
“They had a good sense of humor even though there was some uncertainly about when this would happen and how quickly this would happen.”
Other local federal parks remained closed Thursday, according to answering services at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
News of the shutdown was especially troubling for international visitors who planned trips to national parks and historic sites and were denied entry. One of those visitors who was disappointed to find MLK Historic Site closed Oct. 1 was Toshiya Enomoto, who came from Japan to catch some Braves post-season games.
“I just wanted to pay a visit to this historic site,” Enomoto said. “I’ve always wanted to, but I never had a chance.”
International visitors make up about 20 percent of the historic site’s 700,000 yearly visitors. “We missed that opportunity, and we hope they will return,” said Forte of those visitors they had to turn away.
Victorine Porte of Paris, France, was visiting the MLK Historic Site on its first day re-open Thursday. Porte planned her two-week trip through Georgia six months ago, before the shutdown. When she arrived in Atlanta yesterday, she thought her plans to see the site were cancelled.
“I checked news this morning and heard the shutdown was over,” said Porte. “I thought it was very lucky for me!”
“I wanted to visit historic place of Atlanta, and human rights history has a huge place in French teaching,” she said. “When I read that Atlanta has a dedicated center for Martin Luther King I said I have to have a glance at it.”
Porte was also happy to learn her plans to visit Cumberland Island would not be interrupted by the shutdown. The ferry which travels between the island and the mainland was also affected.
I am very happy to visit all the historical sites,” she said. “I was afraid that everything should be closed.”