Employees, Visitors Back At National Parks After Shutdown

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DEKALB CO., Ala. (WHNT) -- It's a work day as usual for national park employees, and a trip as expected for visitors.

The Little River Canyon National Preserve and Russell Cave National Monument are back open after sixteen days of being shut down.

Park officials say they didn't know if they would be back until late Wednesday evening. They say they got the information through a text message.

Gail Bishop is the superintendent of both national parks. "Everybody started coming between six-thirty and eight this morning and everybody was real excited to be back here," Bishop says.

While most employees were furloughed, Bishop was not. However, last week she got her last paycheck until further notice.

Luckily that notice came Wednesday night.

Bishop says seeing the employees furloughed was tough, but then seeing them back at work Wednesday morning and having visitors enjoy the park again was a welcome sight. "They're relieved, they're glad to be back on the job. They love the park, they love working here, and they love being here," she says.

The park saw a steady stream of visitors since the opening after the shutdown. Robin Furman is one of them. She drove a long way to see the park. "We started out Thursday from Michigan," Furman says.

They've made their way through the South and then into Alabama. Along the way though, they heard words that by now they're pretty tired of hearing. "'We're closed, they shut us down.'" She says that's the greeting they got at every national park they tried to go to.

Furman says they've been planning this vacation for about six months, but many of the destinations  on their map were to national parks. "It was frustrating," Furman says.

Wednesday morning was a different story. "We were very very excited that things were open that we wanted to see," Furman says.

Park officials say hundreds of thousands of people come each year to visit the parks. In the most recent data nearly 226, 000 people visited Little River Canyon in one year. Russell Cave saw nearly 21,000 visitors.

Bishop says  when the parks are closed it affects the entire area. "Those tourists spend money in the local community and in Alabama so it really does have a real ripple down affect when we are closed," Bishop says.

Furman is headed back to Michigan Friday, but for the time being, she says she's going to enjoy the national parks she's missed out on.