Statue of Liberty reopens, access still limited

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NEW YORK -- Shortly before President George W. Bush took the podium at the Republican National Convention here on Sept. 2, New Yorks Gov. George Pataki, in a speech to the delegates, alluded to the day that the Statue of Liberty reopened in New Yorks great, grand harbor.

We had to close her after Sept. 11, but we opened her again a few weeks ago, he said. That was a good day.

I was there that day, Aug. 3, the day it reopened. The terrorist threat to the city was at an elevated level. Soldiers patrolled the streets.

Yet to many, the reopening of the statue was a pivotal event in the citys recovery.

Hundreds of people formed a line that stretched through Battery Park, farther than I could see, waiting to board the ferry to Liberty Island where we would be among the first visitors in three years to enter the statue.

The Statue of Liberty reopened Aug. 3. Visitors cannot enter the statue but can view the interior from windows at the base.We found access to the interior of the statue, which had undergone $27 million in renovations and security improvements, still very limited and security very tight. A timed pass for visiting the inside of the monument is now required.

We went through one set of metal detectors and scanners to board the ferry, and through a second security checkpoint to enter the base of the statue.

The body scanners at the second checkpoint included new air puffers for detecting explosives, according to Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service, who was on hand for the opening.

The island alone had reopened Dec. 20, 2001. Visitors had been allowed to walk up to the base of the monument.

Two million people took the ferry to the island during the intervening years between the reopening of the island and the reopening of the statue -- about half the number of visitors that came before 9/11, according to Mainella.

Now we could enter the base, stop at the museum, take an elevator ride followed by a walk up a 24-step stairway to a viewing area at the foot of the statue, 154 feet above the ground.

We also could walk outside onto a walled-in ledge within a few feet of the top of the pedestal and onto the star-shaped promenade atop Fort Wood, where the base of the statue is mounted.

Each landing offers dramatic, close-up views of the 305-foot structure, which was the tallest in New York when the statue was mounted in 1886.

Wheelchair access goes as high as the promenade. The higher level is only accessible by a stairway.

Visitors are no longer allowed to climb up into the inner structure of the statue. But windows have been provided at the landing at the foot of the statue, which enabled us to look up into the internal framework designed by Gustave Eiffel, who later built the tower in Paris that bears his name.

The view of the statues interior provides a glimpse of the ingenious design of the lightweight frame that holds up the hammered-copper surface, which is only the thickness of two pennies.

When we walked into the building, we entered a lobby where the statues original torch serves as the centerpiece. (The torch Lady Liberty holds now was raised during the statues centenary.)

A guide led us up one flight of stairs to the museum and around displays of artifacts that tell the history of the statue, including posters, photographs, diagrams, a full-size replica of the statues face and one of its feet.

There is no charge to enter the statue or the buildings on Ellis Island, but passage on the ferry, which provides the only access to both islands, costs $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 62 and over and $4 for children ages 4 to 12. Liberty Island is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, call (212) 363-3200. For more information on the statue and the park, see www.nps.gov/stli/.

The ferry is operated by Circle Line-Statue of Liberty Ferry. One roundtrip ferry ticket includes visits to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island. For information on ferry schedules, call (212) 269-5755 for Battery Park departures and (201) 435-9499 for Liberty Park, N.J., departures, or log onto www.statueoflibertyferry.com.

Passes are available in limited numbers for walk-ins at the ferry box offices or by advance reservation by calling (866) STATUE4 (for U.S. callers only). International callers must call the ferry office at (212) 269-5755. A $1.75 handling fee will be charged for each advance ticket. Reservations can be made online at www.statuereservations.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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