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For Martin Luther King Day, Private Entity Steps Up to Open Atlanta Park

Civil rights leader, slain in 1968, would have been 90 today as a new grant bridges a gap created by the partial gov't shutdown

A grant from Delta Air Lines is making it possible for Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to reopen for the first time since the partial government shutdown, which began three days before Christmas.

The park officially reopened Saturday, in time for the holiday weekend.

The annual holiday honors the slain civil rights leader — and this year would have been his 90th birthday.

“Without the assistance provided by The Delta Air Lines Foundation, it [the park] would have remained closed during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend,” said a National Park Service spokesman, as NPR reported.

Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, said the company “felt it was important we do our part to ensure that the historical landmarks be accessible to the public,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A grant in the amount of $83,505 will help cover the costs of reopening and cleaning up the King park, the National Park Service (NPS) said. The money will also be used to pay maintenance costs and staff who wouldn’t be paid under the NPS’s fee collection fund.

“The park will reopen to visitors January 19, 2019 through February 3, 2019 thanks to a grant from The Delta Air Lines Foundation and revenue generated by the National Park Service recreation fees. We are looking forward to your visit,” the national park’s website says.

Delta Airlines was founded in Atlanta and has its headquarters there.

Sunday, February 3, meanwhile, marks the date of the Super Bowl, hosted in Atlanta — which means the King park, fewer than three miles away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams will be played — may potentially see thousands of visitors.

Interestingly, the funding deal in Atlanta is one of the most high-profile cases of a third party’s stepping in to open a national park to visitors amid the partial government shutdown, which today is in its 31st day.

There are more than 40 other situations of third-party funding in place, NPR noted.

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Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.