How U.S. government shutdown affects the Highland Lakes

STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS

Doeskin Ranch, located on RR 1174 and part of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, remains open to the public despite the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government. Visitors can visit Doeskin Ranch, Warbler Vista, and Shin Oak Observation Deck at their own risk as federal employees are furloughed during the shutdown. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park are closed due to the shutdown. Staff photo by Jared Fields

Doeskin Ranch, located on RR 1174 and part of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, remains open to the public despite the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government. Visitors can visit Doeskin Ranch, Warbler Vista, and Shin Oak Observation Deck at their own risk as federal employees are furloughed during the shutdown. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park are closed due to the shutdown. Staff photo by Jared Fields

The Highland Lakes is not immune to the effects of the federal government’s partial shutdown as Dec. 26 marked its fifth day.

Three federally operated facilities under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of the Interior are closed in varying degrees as the shutdown continues: Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.

According to the Associated Press, no end to the shutdown is in sight as President Donald Trump continues to demand $5 billion for border security. Nearly 420,000 federal workers remain on the job unpaid, and 380,000 have been furloughed since the shutdown began late Friday night.

Jeff Conway, project leader at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, is the only “excepted” employee out of seven who will remain at work during the furlough.

His responsibility during the shutdown is to maintain the facility and continue providing care to the fish at the hatchery. Although Conway is on site, the facility is closed to the public.

“We can’t provide security for the public,” Conway said. “The facility is closed until we have a budget.”

Conway said the hatchery averages about a “couple hundred” visitors per month, although winter is a slow time.

Elsewhere in the Highland Lakes, the LBJ National Historical Park is completely closed during the shutdown. An automated voicemail and notice on the website alerts callers and visitors to the shutdown. According to an automated phone message, staff are not authorized to work during the shutdown and will respond to messages when they return to work.

Balcones Canyonlands remains open to public access “at the visitor’s sole risk.”

Where public access to refuge lands does not require the presence of a federal employee or contractor, activities on refuge lands will be allowed to continue on the same terms as before the appropriations lapse. Any entry onto Refuge System property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk,” reads a notice on the park’s website.

Hiking trails at Doeskin Ranch remained open as of Dec. 26.

Full contingency plans for affected federal agencies are available at www.doi.gov/shutdown.

jared@thepicayune.com

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