Management of Lady Liberty Discussed in Congress

Statue of Liberty; 'Dutchnatasja' photo via Flickr.

Statue of Liberty; 'Dutchnatasja' photo via Flickr.

The United States Congress is mad at the National Park Service. Congress cannot figure out why the parks are not listening them, after they've been asked more than once by the House to open up the crown of the Statue of Liberty to visitors. Congress has given unsolicited money to Liberty to get it open, and there had been a campaign which raised millions from across the nation for the same purpose, but still, 6 years after it was closed, there remains no public access to the crown.

The National Park Service says the problem is not national security (visitors have to go through a security check as rigorous as any in the airports), and it isn't a financial problem. The issue, says the Parks, is that the interior of the Statue is not safe for visitors. The only way to get the Statue up to code, would be to radically change the character of the monument by providing mechanisms for escape and rescue, like emergency doors, scaffolding, and fire escapes, all of which currently do not exist.

At present, the National Park Service has no plans on opening access to the top of the crown. This is the point that was driving the assembled congressmen in a hearing today nuts. You can hear a bit of that tone in this exchange between New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Daniel N. Wenk, the Deputy Director of the National Park Service.

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Another congressman, Jay Inslee of Washington, took a different approach. He asked the Park Service to view this as a problem that must be solved. He suggested that the Congress be viewed as a partner is this problem solving operation, and that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to get this thing open. Inslee mentioned, as had a number of other congressmen, that across the park system, visitors are fully willing to accept a certain degree of risk in order to achieve some uniquely American experiences. There is risk when we climb Half Dome in Yosemite, or Angel's Landing in Zion, there is even a degree of risk inside of other man-made structures like the Washington Monument or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Why shouldn't the same degree of risk be acceptable inside of the Statue of Liberty they were asking?

At other times it was asked whether a waiver or an "acknowledgment of risk" form be provided for crown visitors, so that the dangers of the climb would be understood by all. Another congressman suggested that, if the federal safety code is a problem inside the Statue, that Congress is in the unique position to change the rules for the Statue.

Bottom line, Congress wants the Statue of Liberty opened again to the top. The Park Service continues to say "no". As an observer, I am surprised at the seeming obstinance of the NPS on this issue. The agency is hiding behind code, but they should be working overtime to solve the problem Congress (and the Americans they represent) have asked them to fix for the last 6 years.

Details of the Subcommittee Hearing

Congressman Weiner Tours the Inside of the Statue of Liberty

Comments

The Statue of Liberty, like all national parks, should be open and welcoming for Americans to enjoy. Closure of the crown illustrates the chronic funding shortfalls facing our national parks and the critical need for a $200 million increase contained in legislation now moving through Congress. Whether access is controlled and limited through reservations, lotteries, or other reasonable methods, the National Park Service should find a way to safely reopen the crown. Now is the time to make national parks a national priority.

Alexander Brash, NE Reg. Dir.
National Parks Conservation Association

Alexander,
Thanks very much for weighing in. I've actually read your statement elsewhere on the internet. The reason I've never published it on this website, is that I don't think money is the issue here. In fact, at the recent congressional hearing, even the NPS said money wasn't the issue involved with the closure of Statue of Liberty's crown. After 9-11, there had been hundreds of millions of dollars raised in private funds (a figure of $500 million was mentioned by one of the congressmen) to restore full access to the Statue, money that was used to do many many things on the island (including $40K a year for a dog to chase away geese), but the park didn't restore access to the top because, they said, it wasn't safe anymore.

We here at the National Parks Traveler agree wholeheartedly that our parks need to be a national priority and that there is a critical need for more federal park funding, but your statement seems to suggest that if Congress approves the new budget, Liberty's crown will once again be open. There just isn't any evidence to support that claim.