Continuing on his whirlwind work schedule, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has cut through all the security red tape of the Bush administration and announced that the public once again will be able to climb all the way into the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
Citing a mix of terrorism and safety concerns, the Bush administration shut off access to the crown after September 11, 2001. But today Secretary Salazar said he hoped the public would be able to view New York City from the crown as soon as the Fourth of July.
“On July 4th, we are giving America a special gift,” Secretary Salazar said. “We are once again inviting the public to celebrate our great nation and the hope and opportunity it symbolizes by climbing to Lady Liberty’s crown for a unique view of New York Harbor, where the forbearers of millions of American families first saw the new world.”
Access to the crown will be limited to 10 people at a time, guided by a National Park Service ranger.
Secretary Salazar, who visited the Statue of Liberty on his third day in office, based his decision on a comprehensive analysis of the entire structure completed last month by the National Park Service, including expert recommendations on reducing risk for visitors.
The Park Service, which has responsibility to keep visitors safe and make it possible for them to evacuate in the event of an emergency, closed the crown because of health and safety concerns. The crown is accessible only by a narrow 168-step double-helix spiral staircase. After 9/11, the Park Service deemed the risk too high to re-open the crown to the public.
“We cannot eliminate all the risk of climbing to the crown, but we are taking steps to make it safer,” the secretary said. This includes raising the handrails on the spiral staircase and stationing rangers throughout the Statue to aid visitors, as well as help them enjoy the experience and learn more about the Statue and its symbolism.
The Statue of Liberty will be open for the next two years. Then it will be closed again for work on a long-term solution that will improve safety and security permanently.
“Once the work is complete, the Statue will be safer, and so will its visitors,” Secretary Salazar said.
In addition, the Interior Department will invest $25 million under the president’s economic recovery plan to stabilize the Baggage and Dormitory Building at Ellis Island, built in 1908 to house immigrants waiting for further processing, and repair 2,000 feet of the island’s crumbling seawall.
Some 40 percent of American citizens can trace a family connection to Ellis. “Visitors who make the pilgrimage to Ellis Island will be able see, touch, and get a sense of that first American experience had by a mother or grandfather,” Secretary Salazar said.
The funds to restore the building and sea wall at Ellis Island are part of more than $750 million in Recovery funds we will be investing in national parks across the nation.