Of course it's disappointing if you were planning to visit a national park or Washington, D.C., during the government shutdown, which has closed top attractions, including the 19 Smithsonian Museums, the National Zoo and the National Mall. It's even more disappointing to all those who rely on the tourism industry in Washington, D.C.
"Tourism, as you may know, is the second largest employer in the District, after the federal government," said Kate Gibbs, a spokesman for Destination DC, the official tourism organization for the city. "The truth is, we have no idea what each day will bring, and the situation has the potential to grossly impact the city."
Columbus Day or fall break to tour the nation's capital or a national park may be understandably re-thinking your plans, others may not. I'm taking a group of inner-city boys who attend our suburban high school to Gettysburg, Pa., even though the battlefields at Gettysburg National Military Park are mostly closed — this during the time Gettysburg was expecting a huge influx of tourists to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle and the upcoming anniversary next month of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The Visitor Center and museum are open (they are funded and operated by a private foundation (http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org) and there are still tours we can take, farms to visit and even an apple festival.
The reality is it would have been too difficult to find another date that works. Another factor: I thought we should support those in Gettysburg (http://www.gettysburg.com) whose livelihoods depend on tourism. What's happening in Washington certainly isn't the kids' fault, though they are suffering as a result — as is everyone around the country who depends on tourism near national parks and national historic sites. Even the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is closed.
I hope you — like me — will opt to continue your planned travels, even if they were to include sites funded by the federal government. Those around the country who depend on tourism need our support. If the national park you were planning to visit is closed, for example, consider a nearby state park where you can still hike, bike and enjoy glorious foliage. Instead of touring the Grand Canyon, spend time exploring the fantastic red rocks of Sedona, Ariz., with off-road tours and hike or bike in parks like Slide Rock State Park and Red Rock State Park (http://www.visitsedona.com). (The U.S. Tour Operators Association is estimating that the communities surrounding the country's 401 national parks will lose an estimated $30 million a day in combined tourism spending when the parks are shuttered.)
Instead of Mount Rushmore, visit Custer State Park in South Dakota (http://www.custerstatepark.info), which proved an especially memorable trip for my kids. Where else can you see roaming buffalo? A herd of 1,500 buffalo lives in Custer State Park, which spans 71,000 acres, making the park one of the largest state parks in the country with plenty of hiking trails, places to horseback ride or take a Buffalo Jeep safari.
In Washington, D.C., of course, the good news is there is still plenty to see and do, though not all of the attractions are free, as are the federally-funded museums.
There are lots of suggestions from local kids in my "Kid's Guide to Washington, D.C." Do you have a budding lawyer in the family? You can still visit the U.S. Supreme Court (http://www.supremecourt.gov), which just opened its new term. Here are 10 other kid-tested good bets still operating during the government shutdown:
1. Take a free tour of a D.C. neighborhood with WalkingTown DC (http://www.culturaltourismdc.org) under the auspices of Cultural Tourism DC.
2. Learn about covering the news at The Newseum (http://www.newseum.org), which is packed with interactive exhibits that explore how news is covered and how it impacts us.
3. Be a crime solver at The Crime Museum (http://www.crimemuseum.com). Check out a crime lab, filming studios for America's Most Wanted, a simulated shooting range, high-speed police-chases and hundreds of interactive elements and artifacts pertaining to America's infamous criminals.
4. See if you have what it takes to be a spy at The International Spy Museum (http://www.spymuseum.org) where you can adopt a cover identity, see an exhibit on Bond villains and step into a fictional country on an undercover mission.
5. Time travel back to George Washington's time and visit him at his Mount Vernon (http://www.mountvernon.org) home, tour his farm and gardens and talk to people who knew him.
6. Explore the world at the National Geographic Museum (http://www.nationalgeographic.com). This museum offers interactive experiences and photography exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers and scientists.
7. Be inspired by art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (http://www.corcoran.org), including 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, photography and decorative art. (Use their family guide if visiting with younger kids.)
8. Check out the Family Tool Kit at The National Building Museum (http://www.nbm.org) and discover what makes a house a home, learn about creating architectural design or practice with construction tools.
9. Take in a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center (http://www.kennedy-center.org).
10. Ford's Theatre (http://www.fords.org). While performances have been suspended during the shutdown, the walking tour, "Investigation: Detective McDevitt," continues. This walking tour of downtown D.C. is led by an actor portraying Detective James McDevitt, on duty the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Join Detective McDevitt as he revisits the sites and re-examines the clues from the investigation into the crime. The Center for Education and Leadership, which is owned and operated by the Ford's Theatre Society, will stay open for daytime visits from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Center includes two floors of permanent exhibits about Lincoln's assassination and his legacy.
So, what are you waiting for?
(For more Taking the Kids, visit http://www.takingthekids.com and also follow @TakingtheKids, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)
Taking the Kids
Taking the Kids: 12 sites to see in Washington, D.C., during the shutdown