Richard Altans rode about 450 miles on his motorcycle from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Cape May Point to visit the town’s iconic lighthouse.
But Sunday, he found the parking lot’s gate closed and the lighthouse off-limits due to a state government shutdown that went into effect Saturday after lawmakers failed to pass a budget.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Altans, 71. “They don’t care about the people.”
All nonessential state services, including state parks and Motor Vehicle Commission offices, are closed due to the deadlock in Trenton. The Legislature reconvened Sunday in an attempt to reach a compromise on New Jersey’s fiscal year 2018 budget, but no progress was made as the Democratic-majority Legislature remained divided on the vote.
“I’m sitting here, waiting for a budget and no one will give me one,” Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday at a news conference. “They (Assembly Democrats) need to get their act together.”
Signs at some closed state parks blamed Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for the impasse.
Attractions such as the lighthouse and the nearby World War II lookout tower, also closed, normally are packed on a Fourth of July weekend. Instead, tourists were left disappointed and perplexed by the closings.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Arun Makam, 40, of Syracuse, New York, standing near the lighthouse. “It’s one of the few activities we could have done today.”
There’s also a monetary cost to the budget deadlock. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, which manages the lighthouse and lookout tower, said in a statement the shutdown is hurting the nonprofit organization’s finances.
“Each day these two sites are closed means thousands of dollars lost in support of MAC’s historic preservation mission,” Director Michael Zukerman said in a statement Sunday. “We regret this political impasse continues. It is disrupting thousands of visitors’ plans for the holiday weekend and hurts nonprofit organizations such as MAC. We urge the governor and Legislature to come to a sensible agreement.”
MAC said 83,000 people visited the lighthouse and lookout tower last year and both attractions draw bigger crowds on holiday weekends. Tickets to climb to the top of the lighthouse cost $8 for adults and $5 for children, while admission to the lookout tower is $6 for adults and $3 for children.
Places that haven’t been closed for the shutdown also are affected. Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said in an email the city has heard from tourists who want to know whether the city’s beaches are open.
“We’ve had a handful of calls from visitors who may be confused by headlines about ‘state beaches,’” Bergen said. “They believe all beaches in Ocean City are closed due to the state shutdown.”
Beaches remained open in almost every South Jersey shore town. Island Beach State Park is closed, but Christie flew by helicopter Sunday to Trenton from the park, where he and his family have been staying in a state-owned residence.
The deadlock was a boon for municipal and county parks, Atlantic County spokeswoman Linda Gilmore said. She said municipal parks in the county were busy this weekend due to the holiday and good weather. Officials informed people the parks were indeed open and not affected by the shutdown.
Staff members at Lake Lenape Park in Mays Landing reported an increase in campsite reservations over the weekend, many a direct result of the state park closings, and a higher volume of calls inquiring about the park in response to the shutdown, Gilmore said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.