Ding Darling trails to remain open even if government shuts down; worker furloughs possible
The trails at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel will remain open even if Congress does not pass a bill to fund the government by midnight Saturday.
“The most recent guidance we received is that Wildlife Drive, the Indigo Trail, the Bailey Tract all of that will be open,” Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger, said on Friday afternoon.
Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s concessionaire, will re-open Monday, after being closed in September. The tram service on Thursdays will be open.
The visitor center and restrooms will be closed. About 10 employees will be furloughed, Westland said. The park manager and law enforcement can still work.
At least 10 employees will be furloughed at Ten Thousand Islands and Florida Panther in Naples, Westland said. The hiking trails at the two sites will remain open.
The gift shop run by Ding Darling Wildlife Society Friends of the Refuge will be closed because it’s inside the nature center.
“That is their lifeline to getting support for us on the non-profit side,” Westland said.
Westland has experienced at least four shutdowns since she started working at Ding Darling 20 years ago. During some shutdowns the trails have been closed.
The possible shutdown is the latest event the refuge has been through.
“We’ve been through so much with the hurricane, Covid before that, “Westlake said.” We’re just like the wildlife. We have to adapt.”
Allyson Gantt, chief of communications and public affairs for Everglades National Park in Dade County, said the park was reviewing contingency plans and didn’t know how a shutdown would affect the park.
The contingency she included in the press release said “At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed. Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety.”
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