Friends of Weir Farm Say Government Shutdown will Hurt Wilton’s National Park
As the not-for-profit arm of Weir Farm National Historic Site (NHS), the Friends of Weir Farm exists to protect and support Connecticut’s only national park, located at 735 Nod Hill Rd., on the Wilton-Ridgefield border. But with the partial government shutdown closing the nation’s parks, the efforts of the volunteers who have dedicated themselves to Weir Farm now take on a different urgency.
They are trying to draw attention to the negative impact the continued shutdown will have on Weir Farm NHS and are hoping community members will add their voices to any efforts the Friends are making to advocate for the park. They’ve sent a letter to both national government officials and to newspapers to speak out about the damage being done by the shutdown and to push for a resolution.
Fortunately, winter is considered ‘off-season’ for Weir Farm NHS, so typically there is less visitor traffic at this time of year. Although the visitor center is only open May 1-Oct. 31 each year, the grounds are open year round from dawn to dusk and the park does see some visitors during the colder months.
In a message to volunteers and members of the Friends of Weir Farm NHS, and posted on the group’s Facebook page, the members of the Board of Directors said how grateful they are that this isn’t the park’s busy season.
“While we believe that many national parks should be closed in order to protect them from harm, we are fortunate that this is the off season for Weir Farm NHS, and thankful not to have some of the threats to natural resources and visitor management that other parks face. Though looking deserted, the park is doing fine. We are lucky it is nestled in a supportive community and are grateful to those keeping a watchful eye on the park,” they wrote.
But the shutdown has impacted park employees, who either have been furloughed or are working without pay, according to the letter. In addition to the hardship this creates for the employees, the impact ripples out from there, because without anyone staffing the park, several things can’t happen, including historic preservation and maintenance, program scheduling for 2019, and other projects, among many others.
The Friends of Weir Farm Board also write that the park’s closure has a broader economic impact to the wider community.
“We want to make you aware of the hidden negative impacts that this partial shutdown has inflicted on Weir Farm NHS. The park typically continues to generate ample economic benefit for local businesses during the winter season. This activity has now been curtailed for several weeks, which has even broader impacts.”
The text of the entire letter appears below. It was also posted to the Friends of Weir Farm Facebook page and signed by the Board’s officers: Judy Wander, president; Liz Castagna, Vice President; Sheila Wakoff, secretary; and Jim Burch, treasurer.
The Friends hope community members will contact representatives in Washington to push for an end to the shutdown, adding, “Our park, and its dedicated and talented employees, deserve better than to have services suspended and to be shut out of their jobs.”
Text of the Friends of Weir Farm NHS Letter to the Editor:
To the Editor:
Friends of Weir Farm NHS, a not-for-profit partner of Weir Farm National Historic Site, is grateful for the caring local community, including residents and neighbors, who have been such good stewards of the park’s resources during the partial United States Government shutdown that has affected so many sites throughout the National Park Service.
Weir Farm NHS, the country’s premier national park dedicated to American art, which is nestled in our wonderfully supportive community, has not experienced the type of resource destruction, trash buildup and unsanitary conditions many parks have so tragically suffered in the last several weeks.
Although the grounds of Weir Farm NHS remain open to visitors from dawn to dusk, the employees are either furloughed without pay, or working without pay under severely constrained conditions.
For our community, this means the following:
- Projects scheduled for the May 2019 park seasonal opening will be delayed
- Historic Preservation work and backlog maintenance is stopped
- Summer season hiring is suspended
- Special use permits are not issued
- Partner projects are put on hold
- Volunteer activities are suspended
- Public bathrooms are closed
- Telephone and email messages from the public are not answered
- Visitor services are non-existent
- Programs and visits for the 2019 season, such as Every Kid in a Park 4th Grade visits, are not being scheduled
- No clearing of ice and snow for winter access.
As a park partner and advocate, we want to make you aware of the hidden negative impacts that this partial shutdown has inflicted on Weir Farm NHS. The park typically continues to generate ample economic benefit for local businesses during the winter season. This activity has now been curtailed for several weeks, which has even broader impacts.
While Weir Farm NHS is a national park, it is also a magnificent local historic treasure we all love and want to protect. Our park, and its dedicated and talented employees, deserve better than to have services suspended and to be shut out of their jobs. We hope our local communities will join with us in supporting your local national park by contacting your representatives in Washington.
Friends of Weir Farm National Historic Site