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What lies beneath: For 30 years, the Greenbrier Resort’s west wing was home to a top-secret bunker for Congress. (All Photos: Greenbrier Resort)

It only took 16 days, millions of dollars in lost revenue, and the threat of a credit downgrade. But with the shutdown countdown finally underway, all eyes are on Congress like never before. Among the potential solutions that could have expedited the 2-week government standoff was this nifty idea from one American: Lock Congress in a bunker out in West Virginia until they could all hash out a plan to end the latest round of government gridlock. Not just any bunker, either: The Greenbrier Bunker.

For more than 30 years, this vast underground bunker (picture, bottom) existed beneath the Greenbrier Resort, located just outside the town of White Sulphur Springs, in Greenbrier County, WV — all completely unknown to the outside world. It all began in the late 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, when the US government approached the swanky, 1,500-acre West Virginia resort, which opened back in 1858, about building an emergency shelter for Congress in the event of a nuclear fallout.

Greenbrier Resort, home to Greenbrier Bunker

Bunker sketch: Artist’s once-classified rendering of what the underground bunker would look like in relation to the West Virginia Wing of The Greenbrier. The bunker’s construction stretched from 1959 to 1962.

The thinking went that no one would ever suspect Congress was hiding out in plain view, under one of America’s most famous resorts. And with Washington, DC, just a few hours away by car (and a stone’s throw from a nearby airport landing strip and train, the latter conveniently located next to the resort) – as well as the surrounding Allegheny Mountains to catch nuclear fallout debris — the idea for a bunker beneath the resort (codenamed Project Greek Island) seemed to make a whole lot of sense.

The only thing is the worst never happened, and Congress never got a chance to settle into the top-secret digs. But for 30 years, a small staff, known as the innocuous-sounding Forsythe Associates, kept the massive, 112,544-square-foot bunker in a state of constant operational readiness: Medications for every member of Congress were kept current; food rations were routinely rotated; sheets on bunk beds in the 18 dormitories routinely changed (see picture, bottom) and the maintenance and upkeep of medical, entertainment (like TVs) and exercise equipment were continually updated with the latest models. All of this at the taxpayer’s expense, to the tune of $14 million to build and several times that amount to stock with the needed provisions through the years.

Bunk up: Original bunk beds, intended for members of Congress, in one of the 18 dormitories at the Greenbrier Bunker, beneath West Virginia’s famous Greenbrier resort.

That all changed in 1992, when the Washington Post ran a cover story exposing the Greenbrier Bunker – and questioning whether taxpayer money was wisely being spent on a nuclear fallout shelter that had never been put to use. The bunker was soon decommissioned, and in the years to come it was opened to the public for tours — among the highlights are the Governor’s Hall, which was originally built as a chamber for the US House of Representatives; the cafeteria, which could feed 400 people in 1 seating; and the press room, with a tapestry image of the Capitol ready for any live TV shots. The vast facility is also used as a data storage site for a private sector company, CSX Corporation, which allows tours under the proviso that the public not photograph the premises.

Data storage is great and all, but the whole idea of gathering up Congress for a sit-down session might do wonders for expediting negotiation in the event of future shutdown scenarios. In our view, there’s something about being 720 feet deep into the West Virginia hillside, without the light of day, that may just make an elected official want to hurry up, get the job down and … maybe end a potential shutdown. Who knows, maybe the $14 million cost for this hideout could be well-spent after all.

Check out Travel Channel’s intriguing tour of the Greenbrier Bunker:

Government shutdown, whatever!: The Statue of Liberty joins the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and national park sites in Colorado and Utah in reopening.

Give me your poor, your tired, your shutdown masses yearning to travel free. On Sunday morning, the Statue of Liberty, the very symbol of American resilience, not to mention beaucoup bucks for New York’s travel industry, reopened her doors to the public for the first time since the partial government shutdown began 12 days before. But don’t thank Congress — New York State will foot the bill of $61,600 a day over the next several days to keep Lady Liberty’s doors open.

The news comes amid some partially hopeful news for travelers and national parks lovers everywhere: On Saturday, Grand Canyon National Park reopened its doors as well, with the state of Arizona forking over $651,000 for the next 7 days to keep the Grand Canyon open. (That amounts to $93,000 a day — less than the $112,000 the feds say is needed to fund park operations each day.)

However, moves by both states – as well as South Dakota, which sees Mount Rushmore reopen beginning Monday, along with national parks in Utah (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments) and Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park) – are the exception. Yellowstone, America’s first national park, remains closed. “Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government,” says a spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead.

In the case of New York State, a lot is riding on the Statue of Liberty’s reopening: The iconic landmark sees 3.7 million visitors a year, generating nearly $200 million in economic activity and supporting over 2,000 jobs. Already Lady Liberty had seen a tough year and a half, suffering extensive damage, along with nearby Ellis Island, from Superstorm Standy. It took a year of extensive rehabilitation before the Statue of Liberty reopened, in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony just in time for July 4 celebrations. Then came the government shutdown, just what everyone needed.

Since the shutdown, roughly 400 jobs have been lost at the Statue of Liberty and nearby park sites, reports CNN. And while the Statue of Liberty just reopened yesterday morning, with state funds temporarily allowing visitors to take the ferry over to the monument on Liberty Island, the state budget is only a temporary fix. While New York has given the green light to fund Lady Liberty for the next few days, it will then assess its financial commitment every 2 days if the federal shutdown continues, says Cuomo.

No no telling what will happen after next week. So if you’re looking to see these great American landmarks, and you’re within traveling distance, now’s the time to visit.

Courtesy of Ballpark Boathouse

A week into the government shutdown, tourists and furloughed employees alike in Washington, DC, are asking, “What do we do now?” While we don’t have the answers for when the shutdown will end or what’s going to be the state of our country after, we do have some ideas to take our mind off the shutdown while it’s happening.

So for those who find yourself in DC with some time on your hands, here are a few things to do:

Churchkey

Enjoy Happy Hour … All Day Long
Drink your debt-ceiling worries away at the numerous bars and restaurants in the district that are offering shutdown specials. Nothing like a little comfort food or cocktails to ease stress and put a smile on your face. Check out Washington Post’s growing list of places to eat and drink for less during the shutdown.

See DC From the Water
Tourists and locals should take a chance to see the city from another angle  — from the water.  Ballpark Boathouse, the only public boat rental open during the shutdown, is extending their kayak rental season by staying open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as long as the government shutdown continues (and until the water temperature hits 55 degrees).

Photo by Kathleen Rellihan

Check Out Other Neighborhoods
Tourists might normally stick to the Mall and downtown, but the shutdown of the National Monuments is the perfect excuse to see less tourist-trodden territory. Escape downtown and head to the eclectic U Street neighborhood for a taste of African-American history, indie shopping and inventive restaurants. And on Saturdays, you can check out the new District Flea for some wallet-friendly shopping.

Take Up a New Hobby
Out of work? Put those idle hands to use by learning a new craft. Fibre Space in Old Town, Alexandria, is offering free knitting lessons for federal workers on any day the government is closed. Or perhaps you have always wanted to try yoga, but didn’t have the time. STROGA yoga studio in DC is offering free noon classes to those with a government ID.

Get Snap Happy Outside of DC
While there might not be any photo snapping of national monuments for the time being, tourists and locals can see a different side of the area by taking a photo safari outside of the city. Shoot the barns and bridges in nearby Frederick, MD, or capture the morning light in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, just an hour’s drive away. Or head out on a leaf-peeping adventure outside DC now that fall foliage is starting to peak in the area.

No matter where you are in the US, don’t let the government shut down your vacation.  Here are travel alternatives outside DC during the shutdown.

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Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When we compiled our list of Things to Do in October, we sure were betting on Acadia National Park and the Grand Canyon as 2 great spots to spend quality travel time this month. Then a little matter called the government shutdown occurred, and soon enough what seemed like 2 really cool travel ideas turned into one big letdown.

We’re sorry, guys, and for what it’s worth, we’re as bummed as you as we watch the news reports. Since Tuesday’s shutdown, Grand Canyon visitors have been turned away en masse, ditto for Acadia National Park. In fact, all national parks, which “belong to the American people, and the American people should have the right to come in,” are now closed until further notice. We can’t even check out their websites, including the adorable panda cam at DC’s National Zoo.

You don’t have to plan a big trip out West or along the East Coast to realize the impact of this shutdown. Something as simple as a jog around a favorite local park is now off-limits, if it’s under National Park Service stewardship – and lest you think of even trying to set foot on NPS ground, you could face arrest. We wouldn’t want that. But we don’t want you to idle your month away, either.

So in the spirit of American resilience — and because, well, we can’t let the good ole boys and gals in our nation’s capital get us down — we propose these travel alternatives. You will have fun this month – government shutdown or not!

Let’s start with the Grand Canyon. As you drive away, grumbling under your breath that the great off-season trip you were hoping for won’t happen as planned, take heart: The Hualapai people have you covered. This Native American tribe oversees a swath of land to the west of the Grand Canyon – and that includes the part where you’ll find the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Check out Hualapai Tourism (yep, their site is up!) and get Skywalk info.

As for Acadia, well, we’re not going to lie: Its closure is a major blow to leaf-peepers everywhere. But Main’s office of tourism suggests that visitors enjoy the fall colors other ways. “While Acadia National Park is one of our featured attractions, there are so many other things to enjoy in Bar Harbor and on Mount Desert Island,” says Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “The area’s brilliant fall foliage will be at its peak over the next few weeks, businesses are open, and there are many ways to enjoy some of Maine’s most beautiful coastline,” he adds.

And let’s not forget the state parks – they’re all open, coast to coast, and they could help save your vacation. Everything from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Red Rock State Park, are open to visitors – check out Wiki’s full list of state parks.

Government shutdown or not, let’s make this a month to remember!

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