The Washington Monument, the White House and three other national landmarks would likely be closed to the public in the event of a terrorist attack, but a war with Iraq does not necessarily mean the attractions would be off-limits to visitors, a National Park Service spokesman said yesterday.
In addition to the Washington landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell pavilion in Philadelphia and the St. Louis Gateway Arch could be closed temporarily if the nation experiences another terrorist attack like that of Sept. 11, 2001, said Park Service spokesman David L. Barna. All five sites closed to the public after the attacks on Washington and New York. The Washington Monument, the Liberty Bell and the Gateway Arch reopened to the public within a week.
The tourist sites, however, would not necessarily be closed solely because of a war with Iraq or because of an increase in the nation's terror alert status to Code Red, Barna said. "A war itself would not close anything," he said. "During the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, we didn't close sites."
Park superintendents have the flexibility to determine whether a change in status to Code Red would warrant closings, Barna said. "They have some leeway out there," he said. "You have to wait and see what the Code Red is about."
The Park Service has overhauled security at several of the nation's most popular tourist sites since the 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, and has identified the five landmarks, as well as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, as symbols of democracy that might be targeted by terrorists. The government deployed airport-style security -- such as metal detectors, bag searches and explosives detectors -- at the five sites. Security was also increased at Mount Rushmore, which tourists can view from a distance but not approach.
At the urging of the Secret Service, the White House suspended all public tours six days after the Sept. 11attacks. Since then, only school groups and veterans and military groups have been permitted to arrange special tours through members of Congress. The Statue of Liberty remains closed, but the grounds of Liberty Island are open to visitors.
The national park system includes 388 parks, monuments, memorials, battlefields and seashores, including a few on controlled-access military sites such as the USS Arizona Memorial in Navy waters at Pearl Harbor.
"Our job is to keep parks open," Barna said, noting that attendance at Shenandoah National Park southwest of Washington climbed 24 percent six months after the 2001 attacks. "This is where the public goes to renew their spirit. We believe the national parks are places people can go to get away from the news of the day."