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Visitors refuse to be shut out by shutdown

The area’s national parks are closed because of the partial government shutdown, but that hasn’t deterred some visitors from finding ways to get around the hurdle.

For instance, a group of about 50 senior citizens, led by Ed Bearrs, retired chief historian of the National Park Service and author of 15 books on the Civil War, walked along the Sunken Road trail’s stone wall Wednesday afternoon.

The group from Montgomery County, Md.’s Senior Outdoor Adventures in Recreation program, had made prior arrangements to visit Fredericksburg and other area battlefield sites, said director Philip Weinstein.

He said the SOAR group decided to come, despite the shutdown. Weinstein, who worked for Macy’s in New York for 40 years, said he was determined.

With the department store, “If you didn’t go through a brick wall to get business, they said goodbye. So I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said smiling.

Weinstein said park historian Greg Mertz suggested the tour group visit areas with public access, such as the spot they entered on the west end of Sunken Road trail.

The wartime road, and a stone wall along it below Marye’s Heights, is where Confederates mowed down wave after wave of attacking Union soldiers during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

Weinstein said the group planned to follow Mertz’s suggestion, and would visit other similarly accessible spots around town—such as where the Union Army built its pontoon bridges from the Stafford County shore of the Rappahannock River.

The visitors, however, missed out on the nearby visitor center, Fredericksburg National Cemetery just up the hill and Chatham Manor overlooking the river in southern Stafford.

While Bearss was talking, a park maintenance worker drove up to say that the park is closed. He didn’t ask them to leave.

On Tuesday, a group of World War II veterans visiting from Mississippi “stormed” the shut-down National World War II Memorial in Washington after someone removed some barriers.

Lucy Lawliss, superintendent of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, said on Tuesday that, except for public through roads, the park, its trails and visitor centers, are closed. Areas posted with signs and barricaded are off-limits until the shutdown ends.

Park service rangers, meanwhile, are patrolling the sites.

Outside one entrance of Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield on Tuesday, a few people had parked their vehicles and went around the barricade. The park is a prime walking, biking and dog-exercising venue.

Back in Fredericksburg, Mike O’Hearn, a retired Navy veteran and defense contractor who lives in Norfolk, wandered over to one of the interpretive signs along Sunken Road, within sight of Weinstein’s tour group.

O’Hearn’s wife was attending a teachers’ conference here and wasn’t deterred by the shutdown. “I came to see the battlefields,” he said.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


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