What is the impact of the government shutdown on Alabama’s National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges?

Sand hill crane at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, photo by David Frings, December 9, 2017

As the Federal government shutdown enters its second week, one of the hardest hit federal government programs in Alabama are the National Wildlife Refuges and National Park units.

Historic and nature-based tourism is a multi-million dollar business in Alabama. Other than the summer, visitors from out of state and local residents flock to Alabama’s network of federal refuges and parks during the Christmas holidays.

This weekend, we surveyed via websites and social media the status of these special places during the shutdown. Here is what we found:

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Birmingham Alabama
Entrance at Kelly Ingram Park

According to their website there will be no National Park Service  visitor services at the Birmingham site. Obviously, Kelly Ingram Park remains open, and places such as the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will maintain their holiday operating hours.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Fall at Little River Canyon, photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

The good news for Little River Canyon is that despite the closure of the National Park Service office, the Canyon Center is operated by Jacksonville State University.  Volunteers are presently working on ways to keep the center open.

Beyond the Canyon Center, here is the message about the Preserve from Facebook:

“Due to this federal government shutdown, all park facilities and services will be closed. This means Canyon Mouth Park will be locked and inaccessible. The bathrooms at the Little River Falls and Eberhart will be locked. There will be no issuing or allowing of permits, no Jr. Ranger programs, etc. However, overlooks and trails are still open to you. But note, Law Enforcement Rangers will be present in the park throughout the shutdown….please be kind to them and the park….they are working for free. Because the Little River Canyon Center is owned by Jacksonville State University, they can continue to keep it open and they will staff the front desk. I’m sorry, but I can no longer post on this until the shutdown is over. We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Freedom Riders National Monument

Located in downtown Anniston, the National Monument will be closed during the shutdown. You can still see the mural depicting the Freedom Riders historic event  at the downtown Greyhound and Trailways Bus station without a guide.

IMG 6325 What is the impact of the government shutdown on Alabama's National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges?
Freedom Riders Greyhound Bus Depot Site. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Pete Conroy, director at the Jacksonville State University Canyon Center stressed the importance of partnership during a shutdown.

“Places like Little River and Freedom Riders are heavily impacted by the shutdown.  Remember, even NPS volunteers are not allowed to work, so its important that the official partners step up as much as possible. Hours of operation may be impacted, but JSU will have the Canyon Center open and be available to answer questions for both units.”

Tuskegee National Historic Site

Earth Day quotes
Bust of George Washington Carver at Tuskegee University

The campus continues to be open, but the visitor center and Ranger tours are unavailable and closed.

Other National Monument and Historic Sites

The Russell Cave National Monument, Horseshoe Bend Military Park and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Sites are closed.  Selma to Montgomery National Historic  Trail

National Wildlife Refuges

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Whooping Cranes
Whooping crane (white) at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, photo by David Frings, December 9, 2017

One of the most impacted National Wildlife Refuges in Alabama is the heavily  visited Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur.  December and January are the times of year thousands of sandhill cranes and a couple of dozen whooping cranes reside inside the refuge. Hundreds of visitors travel to the refuge weekly from all over the country to see the cranes.

Presently, people can walk the trails,  but the visitor center and observatory are closed. Here is a story from the Decatur Daily about the closure.

Also on the horizon, the annual Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for January 10-13. The shutdown could adversely impact this event which brings thousands of visitors to the region.

Other Refuges

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge - photo by George Lee
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge – Alabama – photo by George Lee

There is little word on the websites and social media about the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County and the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge in Calhoun County near Anniston. Other refuges such as Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge have photos posted on their social media sites of visitors taking hikes on the trail, but the official websites warn about potential closures.

Shutdown ending soon?

Presently, both sides of the shutdown are at an impasse.  When will it end? For Alabama’s historic and natural wonders sake , let’s hope soon.


Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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