WASHINGTON - Barriers went down at federal memorials and National Park Service sites, and thousands of furloughed federal workers returned to work across the country Thursday after 16 days off the job due to the partial government shutdown.
Among the sites reopening were Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Capitol visitors center. Hundreds of others across the country were ready to follow suit throughout Thursday.
"Just to be able to get back to serving the public is so important," said Greg Bettwy as he prepared to return to his job in Washington with the Smithsonian Institution's human resource department. Bettwy said he watched his spending carefully during the shutdown - choosing store brands at the grocery store and forgoing a trip to see a Penn State football game.
The Office of Personnel Management announced that workers should return to work on their next regularly scheduled work day - Thursday for most workers. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed since the shutdown began Oct. 1. The office encouraged agencies to be flexible for a smooth transition by allowing telework and excused absences in some cases.
In Washington, the Capitol's visitor center planned to resume tours Thursday, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was reopening, and the Smithsonian - overseer of many of Washington's major museums - proclaimed on Twitter, "We're back from the (hashtag)shutdown!" The National Zoo was set to reopen Friday, though its popular panda cam was expected to be back online Thursday.
The returning workers' presence will be felt on the roads and rails in the Washington region, where commutes have been less crowded over the past two weeks. The regional transit agency, Metro, reported a 20 percent drop in ridership when the shutdown began and has said it lost a few hundred thousand dollars each day.