LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Workers at the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island rose before the sun Thursday to remove barriers that have been up for the last sixteen days. Ten furloughed federal employees are back on the job, since lawmakers voted to end the partial government shutdown.
Wildlife Drive is back open at the refuge for the first time since work to repave it started back in May. Those with the refuge planned to hold a ribbon cutting on October 1st, the same day the shutdown began. WINK News caught up with visitors Thursday morning who were happy to get through the gates.
"I'm a bird lover, and we were really looking forward to this part of the trip. We love the area and we've enjoyed the trip so far, but this is sort of the highlight for me," Mike Randolph said.
The end of the shutdown means private contractors and fisherman also crippled by the refuge's closure can begin to try to make up lost revenue. Tarpon Bay Explorers, which takes guests through the mangroves leading into the refuge, was forced to close and lay off 22 employees.
Federal workers will receive back-pay, but private employees will not. The company's owner told WINK News all 22 employees came back to work Thursday. The company will now work to make up an estimated $45,000 in lost revenue.
Ding Darling is one of more than 500 refuges forced to close for 16 days of the shutdown. Everglades National Park was among about 400 federal parks to do the same. A park spokesman said 68 furloughed workers began earning a paycheck again Thursday.
The owner of Everglades Area Tours, which relies on the park, said he had to cut back hours for 10 employees and expects to calculate losses between $15,000 and $20,000 because of the shutdown.
The Army Corp of Engineers announced Thursday the reopening of the Franklin Locks Recreation Center, as well as the boat ramp, and campgrounds.