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Public to be heard on proposal to fix elevator at Fort Sumter in South Carolina

November 20, 2017 GMT

For some, the hardest part of visiting Fort Sumter National Monument is getting to see it.

For five years now, the handicapped accessible chairlifts haven’t worked. They served as a visitor elevator to the ramparts of Battery Huger, as well as the gift shop, the flags and the memorials along the fort wall that faces the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, the only way up is to walk four flights of stairs — not an option for a person who has a disability. The U.S. Park Service wants to correct that.

Public comment is being sought until Dec. 12 on a proposal to replace the lifts with a combination of ramps and an enclosed elevator. The work isn’t expected to damage the historic brickwork, although the route will ring a gun pit at the Spanish American War-era Endicott Battery.

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“Almost daily the staff receives complaints or questions regarding the lack of access inside the fort. Right now, to reach the museum, bookstore and top of the fort is only by stairs,” said acting Superintendent Lora Peppers.

“We have a responsibility to provide safe and reliable access to these areas while minimizing the impact to the historic fort,” Peppers said.

Because contracts haven’t been requested yet, the park service would not provide a cost estimate.

The fort — the target of the bombardment that ignited the Civil War — is one of the most sought-after destinations among history buffs and Charleston tourists. It attracts more than 800,000 people per year, along with companion sites Fort Moultrie and the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

The three locations have a $60 million-plus impact on the local economy, according to the federal Department of the Interior.

Like many national parks and monuments, Sumter is under physical stress because of funding shortfalls. Across the country there’s a backlog of millions of dollars in maintenance as sites are pressured by government leaders to pay for themselves to operate.

Because of Sumter’s location on a tiny island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, it’s been particularly impacted. For instance, erosion is eating away the wall holding cannon casements along the main Charleston shipping channel.

Even getting off the ferry boat onto the dock ramp can be an issue for a person with a disability if the tide leaves the ramp too steep. Occasionally the ferry boat vendor must provide a special boat, said Dawn Davis, public affairs specialist for the site.

Written comments may be mailed to Fort Sumter Accessibility Project, Fort Sumter National Monument, 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island, SC, 29482. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/fosu.