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Shutdown jolts CR refuge

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30th anniversary event could be in jeopardy

By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — The federal government shutdown could not come at a worse time for Ross Knudsen.

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As president of the Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Knudsen and other volunteers are gearing up for the refuge’s 30th anniversary event on Oct. 19.

The problem: Activities are at the Three Sisters Springs property and refuge office on King’s Bay Drive, both of which are closed to the public due to the government shutdown.

“It’s just a disaster,” Knudsen said. “Because of the situation you can’t talk to anybody. They can’t pick up their emails. They can’t use government cell phones. It’s putting a burden on everybody.”

The Crystal River refuge office personnel locked up the property shortly after receiving word of the government shutdown, refuge spokesman Ivan Vicente said Wednesday.

Because nearly all of the Crystal River refuge is accessible by water, tourists will see little impact. Three Sisters Springs remains open, as does water access through the Chassahowitzka.

Anything by land, however, is another story.

The refuge office in Crystal River is closed. The Three Sisters Springs property is locked, blocking access to volunteers who watch for manatees and prevent boaters from trespassing on the property.

And the Salt Marsh Trails, encompassing about 10 acres of refuge property off Mason Creek Road in Homosassa, are also closed to hikers.

Individual refuge websites are down. They all direct visitors to the same site at the Department of Interior, which includes a link that spells out the government’s plans for parks, refuges and lands during the government shutdown.

The Crystal River Refuge’s Facebook page had this statement posted: “Due to a lapse of government funding, this account will not be active until further notice.”

Manatees and other wildlife in the 46-acre wildlife refuge will continue being protected as the shutdown does not impact law enforcement officers. Manatee rescue operations, if needed, will come through the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Vicente said.

Vicente said the situation would be worse in November, when tourists begin flocking to Crystal River to view manatees.

“If we were in the height of November, it would be much more severe,” he said.

Knudsen said the longer the shutdown drags out, the more likely that the Oct. 19 Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Day will be canceled.

Planned activities include a guided sunrise bird tour of King’s Bay, and daylong music, vendors and entertainment at the Three Sisters property where the Friends group will open the new Three Sisters Springs Pavilion, completed just this week.

“We can’t use the government boats, the government docks,” Knudsen said. “That whole day is shot.”

Vicente said the event, marking the refuge’s 30th anniversary, would be the first time since February that the Three Sisters Springs property is open to the public. 

He said the event may be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect a week from now.

Refuge Day is operated by refuge personnel with assistance from the Friends group. It raises an average of about $4,000, which goes back to the refuge for manatee-rescue equipment, Knudsen said.

Knudsen said Congress and the White House need to resolve the situation.

“I hope somebody can talk some sense into these guys,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.