There's reason to celebrate at local refuges -- National Wildlife Refuge Week is culminating and the refuges will be open for the final days now that the partial government shutdown has ended.
The nation's 561 federal refuges were closed for 16 days, forcing cancellation of many events scheduled for the celebration week, Oct. 13-19.
"We are very disappointed because we had lots of fun activities planned, especially in celebration of the refuge week," said Jane Griess, project leader of the Savannah Coastal Refuge Complex. "But now things are back in business, and we have lots of catching up to do."
Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge is among the seven refuges in the Savannah complex, which reopened Thursday after the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate came to an agreement Wednesday night.
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Griess said the complex hopes to reschedule many of the tours and activities it had planned at the Pinckney and Savannah national wildlife refuges in coming weeks and months.
However, some things won't be able to be rescheduled. The complex had to cancel a three-day hunt that was to begin Wednesday and go through Saturday because workers were unable to prepare for the hunt the week before.
The month-long archery hunt on the refuges during October also was cut in half -- public access was blocked during the shutdown -- but hunters will now be able to hunt until Oct. 31, Griess said.
Several birding trips that were planned to the refuges also were canceled or moved to other areas not affected by the shutdown, she said.
The Savannah and Pinckney refuges each have about 215,000 visitors every year. So in just 16 days, the two refuges lost about 20,000 visitors between the two of them, according to Griess.
Hunters and visitors were disappointed they couldn't access the refuges, Griess said, but all understood the situation.
The workers at the refuges -- who should get retroactive pay, according to Griess -- are now focused on catching up and preparing for events and hunts scheduled in the coming weeks.
A month-long gun hunt is scheduled to start Nov. 1 and run through the rest of the month.
Much habitat and groundwork is needed on the refuges, said Jeff Fleming, assistant regional director for external affairs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region.
"We are very excited to be back at work and be able to provide these kinds of opportunities to citizens who live and travel around these refuges," he said. "We are just glad to be back and get people back on the refuges."
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