Hobe Sound National Wildlife refuge reopens after 16-day closure

HOBE SOUND, Fla, -- The Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge and Nature Center reopened Thursday after being closed for 16 days during the federal shutdown.

Nature Center employees posted on their website right away that visitors were welcome back to enjoy the park.

"We had a handful of calls this morning, are we open? We are," said Refuge Manager Bill Miller.

Visitors like Raymond and Jennifer Camp said they missed visiting one of their favorite spots.

"We like outdoor activities and we get bored with our usual spot, so when we discovered this one, we were both blown away," Jennifer Camp said.

The Camps were the first park visitors Thursday.

Miller said the work getting the park ready for visitors began at 6 a.m.

"I was out on the beach this morning opening it up and I had people coming up and applauding," Miller described.

Beach and trail access opened immediately. "We had to mow the lawn first thing in the morning, the grass was high," said Miller.

Inside the Nature Center, volunteers and employees got started on weeks of missed work.

Volunteer Matthew Nilles worked on cleaning the display cases for the indoor animals.

"Today's going to be a long day. We're cleaning all the crud off the glass. The animals have been busy in here so were making everything nice and pretty, said Nilles.

Employees caught up on weeks of busy work.

"Catching up on paper work, getting our gift shop back in order again," Nature Center Administrator Betty Haase explained.

Visitors could barely notice a difference between the park pre and post shutdown, though it wasn't easy to maintain the park in the meantime.

Volunteers who typically fold brochures, keep display cases clean, care for some animals, and clean the beaches were limited on what they could do.

They had no beach access, and were only allowed to care for the animals inside the Nature Center once a day.

"Really we could only take care of the animals with their feeding requirements, make sure their cages were cleaned of waste, and refreshing their water," said Nilles.

Haase says the reptiles were the lease affected by the shutdown. They require less attention and care. Mammals had to adjust to a new feeding schedule.

But what visitors can't see is what has park officials the most concerned.

"We did not get any visitors which is a little hard because we depend on our donations," said Haase.

The financial hit won't be felt by visitors, but employees say the Nature Center lost the potential for hundreds of dollars in donations. Park admissions missed out on the potential for thousands of dollars.

Educational programs were also canceled.

"We weren't able to bring kids and families here and I think that would be the biggest loss," said Miller.

Miller says the money can't be made back, but park officials are sure it will not effect the visitor experience.

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