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By Phil Helsel
The National Christmas Tree near the White House reopened on Monday despite the funding lapse caused by the government shutdown after a foundation stepped up with the needed support, the National Park Foundation said.
The Christmas tree at President’s Park, south of the White House South Lawn, was closed when the government partially shut down after Congress failed to reach a stopgap funding bill.
A major obstacle was funding for a border wall that was one of President Donald Trump’s key campaign promises, and which the president had insisted would be paid for by Mexico.
“The National Park Foundation and hundreds of local philanthropic organizations and other park partners are always working to help ensure all people have access to our treasured national parks,” Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, said in a statement. “The National Park Foundation’s support to President’s Park is one example of how private philanthropy can help support national parks when they need it most.”
The National Christmas Tree was closed on Friday, before the government partially shut down at midnight that night, due to damage after a man climbed the tree. When the government shutdown took effect, the park’s funding lapsed.
The man who climbed the tree, who U.S. Park Police believe was in some kind of distress, came down after negotiations with police, NBC Washington reported. He was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, according to the station.
Services at some national parks were shuttered by the shutdown. Some, like the Statue of Liberty in New York, were kept open by individual states.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island would remain open to visitors every day except for on Christmas Day.
Cuomo said the state would fully fund personnel and costs of operation at an estimated cost of $65,000 a day. He said the state did the same during previous shutdowns in 2013 and in January of this year.
“We will not allow President Trump’s repugnant symbol of division close the true representations of who we are as a state and a nation,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As we’ve done before when Washington’s dysfunction has shut down the government, New York will step up and ensure the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island remain open for the world to look to for strength and hope during this tumultuous time.”
Cuomo said that shutting down the park would deny access to an average of 12,000 daily visitors.
Utah’s state government is paying to staff the visitor centers at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, and Arizona is ponying up to keep trails, shuttles and restrooms open at the Grand Canyon, the Associated Press reported.
“Regardless of what happens in Washington, the Grand Canyon will not close on our watch,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said in a statement before the government shutdown.
Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, a Republican, also said the state was committed to ensuring its stunning parks would stay open.
“Many travelers have planned their visit for months in advance and have traveled from all over the world to be here,” Herbert said. “We want them to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors.”
Trump on Twitter on Monday renewed his calls for a border wall. He claimed the border wall would be built with “shutdown money plus funds already in hand.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader and likely next House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Monday blasted what they have dubbed the “Trump shutdown” and said it was done “just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts.”
Of the roughly 800,000 federal employees facing deferred pay, more than half were deemed essential, such as U.S. Secret Service agents and Transportation Security Administration airport agents, according to the Associated Press. About 380,000 were to be furloughed. Legislation ensuring that workers receive back pay was expected to clear Congress.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.
Associated Press contributed.