ST. LOUIS -- Baseball fans arriving in St. Louis for the start of the playoffs this week can scratch off one potential side visit—the Gateway Arch.
The lingering dispute over President Barack Obama’s health care law prompted a partial federal government shutdown Tuesday. Nationwide, some 800,000 federal workers are off the job, though services deemed critical, such as law enforcement and disaster assistance, continued.
The shutdown idled many offices and facilities in Missouri, including Army Corps of Engineers-operated campgrounds, boat ramps and visitors centers.
None draw as many visitors as the Arch, the 630-foot-tall monument to westward expansion on the St. Louis riverfront. About 4 million people visit the Arch each year, making it Missouri’s largest tourist attraction excluding casinos.
Brian Hall, chief marketing officer for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, said people can still stroll the Arch grounds, view the outside of the monument, and take boat rides on the Mississippi River. They just can’t visit the museum beneath the Arch or take the tram to the top.
The NL Central champion Cardinals open the playoffs with home games Thursday and Friday. Hall said that while the Arch closure may disappoint some visitors, the playoffs help to offset the loss.
“There will be lots of activities, lots of things going on in the community,” Hall said. “But we hope they can get this behind them, come up with a compromise, so we can get a key attraction here in St. Louis back open as quickly as we can.”
The St. Louis district of the Corps of Engineers placed more than 550 people on furlough, spokesman Mike Petersen said. Locks and dams remain functional, and the corps will continue essential operations such as manning its emergency operation center, dredging the Mississippi River and flood recovery efforts.
“The most immediate impact people will see is our recreation sites,” Petersen said. Day use areas, boat ramps, campgrounds and park visitor centers are closed.
“This is a significant blow to those communities that benefit from visitors to our lakes,” Petersen said.
VA medical facilities and clinics remain open, as do federal courts. Transportation Security Administration employees at airports in St. Louis and Kansas City continue to screen passengers, and air traffic controllers remain on the job.
The shutdown is affecting thousands of Missourians who in federal jobs. Workers like Ted Hillmer, who oversees Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield, were given four hours Tuesday morning to finish last-minute tasks.
“It’s one of those things,” Hillmer told the Springfield News-Leader. “You have to be prudent and hopefully you’ve gone through some advance planning.”
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees picketed Tuesday outside a federal building in St. Louis.
“We need Congress to do what they were elected to do and pass a budget that allows the federal government to function,” Local 3354 president Steven Hollis said in a statement.