Visitors slowly return to APG

Facility began issuing day passes in November

After 9/11, `It's a step forward'

January 06, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the ordnance museum, thrift shop, chapels and golf courses at Aberdeen Proving Ground have been largely off-limits to the public. But those restrictions are gradually being relaxed with the use of day passes for visitors.

"It's a step forward. We'd like to see it open up completely, but we know that's not possible at this point in time," said Ed Heasley, curator of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, which houses the nation's largest collection of armor.

The Harford County military installation - a key center for Army testing and research - began issuing day passes in November, but because of continuing security concerns, did so with little fanfare, said APG spokeswoman Pat McClong. Base officials "just didn't feel it was something that needed to be advertised," she explained.

To get a day pass, people must register at the visitor booth at the Route 715 gate in Aberdeen or the booth at the Route 24 gate in Edgewood. They must show a driver's license and vehicle registration for entry, McClong said.

She said the public affairs office has received numerous calls weekly from people who shopped at the base thrift store, bowled or golfed at the Ruggles and Exton courses - in Aberdeen and Edgewood, respectively.

McClong, who attended Mass at the multidenominational chapel in Edgewood when she was a child, said some of the people hardest hit by the restrictions were those who attended services in the post chapels and veterans who could no longer visit the ordnance museum.

Heasley said the museum used to get about 300 visitors a day before the terror attacks, and raised about $12,000 a year in visitor donations, which supplement federal funding and help buy books and paint for vehicle restoration.

After Sept. 11, those donations have been "severely curtailed," he said.

Heasley said he has lost count of the calls from people wanting to visit the museum. "They've heard for so long that we were closed," he said. "I want them to come back - it may be a little harder than just driving through the gate, but I want them to know that we are open to the general public again."

At the Ruggles golf course, Dean Phillips, 34, a receiving supervisor at the Saks Fifth Avenue warehouse in Aberdeen, played his first round using a day pass Thursday.

He golfed there two or three times a week before Sept. 11 because it's close to his office. And, he said, you can't beat the price - $18 during the week, $30 on weekends for 18 holes.

Coming to the course after the attacks meant calling ahead and ensuring pro shop personnel could come to the gate and sign him in.

"That put a little strain on coming over to play," he said. The day pass is "quite a bit more convenient."

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