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Government shutdown forces closure of Big Thicket National Prese - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Government shutdown forces closure of Big Thicket National Preserve

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KOUNTZE -

If you call the main number for Big Thicket National Preserve located just north of Kountze, you'll hear this message: 

"Thank you for calling Big Thicket National Preserve of the National Park Service, because of the federal government shutdown, our employees have been furloughed."

When Saratoga resident Vernon Smith visited Big Thicket Tuesday to get a hunting permit, he was greeted with a surprise: the gates were locked shut.

"There's always lots of rumors, but it actually is closed down," Smith said.

The gridlock in Washington, D.C. that led to a government shutdown has forced hundreds of national parks and preserves across the country to close.

"We have 27 day-use areas scattered across 7 counties, and those day-use areas are all closed," said Big Thicket Superintendent Doug Neighbor. "Whether it's access to the river, our boat ramps, our picnic tables, or even our 45 miles of trails... all of that is closed down at this time."

The closure won't only affect people like Smith looking to access the more than 47,000 acres of hunting land on the preserve, it could also greatly impact the local economy.

Preserve officials say each year in the month of October alone, an average of 14,000 people visit Big Thicket, people who bring about $1 million in revenue to surrounding communities.

Ira Braneff, president of the Kountze Chamber of Commerce, says the preserve's closure will have a trickle-down effect on the economy. He says fewer people visiting the preserve will mean fewer people staying in area hotels and eating at local restaurants.

Neighbor hopes the public will be understanding of the situation. 

"We're directed to the shut down, and as soon as we can, we'll open back up."

Neighbor was one of 30 Big Thicket employees furloughed indefinitely without pay.

140 students were scheduled to participate in an all- day environmental education program at the preserve next week, but that will have to be canceled if the government does not re-open.

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