Government shutdown closes national parks and facilities in Highland Lakes

Federal governemnt officials closed Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, located just off Park Road 4 in Burnet County, to the public because of lack of appropriations, which has cancelled tours and events at the facility. The venue has played host to tours for school children, festivals and nature-related group meetings. File photo

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

BURNET — Project Leader Paul Dorman takes his responsibilities at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery seriously, even after the federal government closed the facility to the public and cut staff from four to one person following a government shutdown Oct. 1.

“My  task is to make sure … the infrastructure of the facility still has integrity,” he said.

The federally funded hatchery, located at 345 Clay Road on more than 140 acres below Inks Dam on the Colorado River, grows and nurtures channel catfish as well as endangered species and those “of concern” for communities in Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The hatchery is one of three federally operated facilities located in the Upper Highland Lakes under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of the Interior facing a similar fate.

NATIVE PLANT FESTIVAL MOVES FROM HATCHERY TO CAMP BUCKNER

Federal governemnt officials closed Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, located just off Park Road 4 in Burnet County, to the public because of lack of appropriations, which has cancelled tours and events at the facility. The venue has played host to tours for school children, festivals and nature-related group meetings. File photo
Federal governemnt officials closed Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, located just off Park Road 4 in Burnet County, to the public because of lack of appropriations, which has cancelled tours and events at the facility. The venue has played host to tours for school children, festivals and nature-related group meetings. File photo

Because of the U.S. Congress failing to agree on a budget deal by Oct. 1, federal facilities did not receive funding to continue full operations, which led to staff furloughs and public closures of national parks, refuges and other facilities.

Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and located at 24518 FM 1431 East on 71 square miles of land, alerted tourists online of their options after the public closure.

“If you already have a reservation, which is either partially or fully impacted by facility closures, we will automatically cancel that reservation and issue a full refund to the credit card used for the initial purchase transaction,” a page on the website reads. “No additional cancellation fees will be charged to the customer for reservation cancellations as a result of facility closures.”
Also, tours at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park’s LBJ Ranch, known as the “Texas Whitehouse,” located at 199 Park Road 52 in Stonewall, are cancelled along with ancillary LBJ historical features in Johnson City, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior website.

Online sources for the facilities either cite “a lapse in funding for the federal government,” offer ways to obtain refunds without fees or state that all national parks or websites are closed.

At the hatchery, three employees — an administrative assistant, a maintenance worker and a wildlife biologist — were furloughed, Dorman said.

He contacted groups, including the Native Plant Society and Friends of Inks Lake, who reserved the facility for nature-related events or meetings, to alert them to find an alternative venue.

“I am deemed an essential personnel to keep the infrastructure and the species under our care alive under this shutdown,” he said. “Even though the government is shut down, it’s still one person to get those tasks done.”

connie@thepicayune.com