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October 2, 2013

No refuge here

Wildlife sanctuary, state park closed by federal shutdown

PLUM ISLAND — Birdwatchers and beachwalkers were out of luck yesterday as the federal government shutdown has shuttered the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

And by way of geography, a popular state park — Sandy Point State Reservation — has also fallen victim to the shutdown.

The public access gate at the Plum Island refuge was locked yesterday, as a slow parade of motorists pulled up, read the sign announcing the closure, then moved on. The only employees seen at the refuge were law enforcement patrols.

The refuge’s visitor center on Plum Island Turnpike was also closed.

It was the same across the nation — every wildlife refuge is closed to the public, as well as national parks. Employees have been placed on furlough while a federal budget plan remains stalled in Congress. Federal parks and wildlife refuges will remain closed until the budget deal is worked out.

Among those turned away at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge gates yesterday were students from the Newburyport-based River Valley Charter School. Some 15 middle school students were on a field trip to study erosion at Sandy Point, located at the southernmost tip of Plum Island.

To access Sandy Point, visitors must travel down a 6-mile road through the federal refuge. The refuge closure meant that access to the state park, which has about 50 parking spaces, was also closed.

Instead, the students headed north to the city-owned Plum Island Point and the lesson plan was adjusted, said teacher Heather Reusse.

“It also turned into a bit of a civics lesson,” she said, as teachers tried to explain why the refuge was closed, and what a government shutdown meant without alarming the students.

“There were a lot of questions about what a shutdown means,” she said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said there are concerns about the fallout to other federal programs, such as federally backed first-time homeowner loans. The government plans to continue processing the loans, but with a much reduced staff.

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