Lady Liberty: Just Another Long Wait, and Long Walk

As tourism season gets under way in the Big Apple, visitors cross the harbor to Liberty Island and find an awful truth.

'Give me your tourists, your dollars, your huddled masses yearning to climb my spiral staircase."

Well, that's not exactly the way Emma Lazarus wrote the poem, "The New Colossus," but it gives you an idea of what it's like at America's icon of liberty.

The Statue of Liberty, as they say on Broadway, is Standing Room Only. On a recent day, tourists visiting the island were surprised to find a four-hour wait to climb the 354 steps to the crown. As the peak tourist season arrives, those lines will become more commonplace. As many as 20,000 tourists per day will pay $7 for the short ride to the copper-clad lady. The problem is that only 350 people per hour can climb the narrow spiral stairwell to get a peek through the windows overlooking the harbor. Since Statue of Liberty National Monument is only open six hours per day, it's a fact that a lot of people are going to be disappointed - perhaps 18,000 per day.

Disappointment isn't their only problem. If they get inside the structure, they find there is no insulation. So as the statue's copper warms up - and copper is a good heat conductor - some visitors begin to feel poached. Last summer, the National Park Service had to treat 160 people for heat-related emergencies.

THE Park Service, aware of these problems, is planning on July 1 to extend the ferry hours to allow more time on the island for the 3 million visitors per year. The government is also considering other options to limit the lines, says a spokesman for the Park Service, Manny Strumpf. The plans, which may create some controversy, may be announced shortly.

But any effort to extend the hours will come too late for Kenneth Gottfried and his family. On a recent day they arrived too late to catch the final ferry. Mr. Gottfried, a businessman, said he thought the Park Service should sell access to the top. "A lot of people would be willing to pay a premium," said Gottfried as he comforted a daughter who had been promised a visit to the famous lady all the way from Boone, N.C.

Many tourists think it's a good idea to limit the lines. Kym and Nicola Evans of Sydney, Australia, recently boarded the ferry with their two young sons, Jack and Tom. But the long wait meant they did what most tourists do: walk around some of the lower observation decks, take photos, and head back to the city. "With children, you don't want to stand in line for that long," says Mrs. Evans.

If the Park Service embarks on a plan to limit visitors - perhaps to early arrivals - it could result in people camping out overnight to get tickets.

But some don't consider a trip to the top that important. That's the case for German visitor Pam Weisser, who says she is visiting the island out of "curiosity." In fact, for many foreign visitors, who make up 50 percent of all those heading to the island, the main reason for visiting is that it's the "in" thing to do. Ken Imai of Osaka, Japan, says he is familiar with the statue from watching "Superman" movies.

But for others, the trip to the statue has a deeper meaning, sometimes hidden in the past. That's the case with Peter Gary, a Los Alamos, N.M., research scientist. All his grandparents came through Ellis Island. Getting to the very top is important, he says, as he waits on a line that will take him to the crown. "Sounds hokey, but this is a chance to look back," he says.

For many, the trip results in a burst of patriotism. Andre Martinez, whose parents are from Mexico, didn't make it to the top but was impressed anyway. "It's cool," says the Californian. "It makes you proud to be an American."

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