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Wildlife Refuge Reopens

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COMANCHE CO., Okla_ The gates are open, the barricades are gone, and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is officially fully staffed and open to the public.

The government shutdown put over half of the refuge's workers on furlough. Only emergency personnel, such as police and firefighters, remained on the clock while campsites, overlooks and the visitor center were forced to close.

It couldn't have been more perfect if you planned it. The refuge's first day back from the shutdown was absolutely gorgeous, and people from all over didn't hesitate to take a drive up to Mount Scott for what was somewhat of a second grand opening for the area.

Shanna Warner and her family look forward to their frequent trips to the Wichita Mountains.

"We love to come out here in the Spring and the Fall," Warner said. "We love the outdoors and love to come up here and go hiking."

When the government shut down, she couldn't have imagined it would foil her family fun.

"We were going to come last weekend, and then I found out it was all closed, so we couldn't come," Warner said.

The refuge is once again welcoming folks from all over the world back to its sorely-missed scenery, but closed gates for 16 days didn't stop the hard work for Deputy Manager Ralph Bryant and the rest of his shorthanded crew.

"We still had that first weekend, maybe 20,000 visitors that came to visit the refuge," Bryant said. "We had good cooperation with a lot of people, but a few didn't want to cooperate at all and abide by the closure."

He said it was the staff, from administrators to biologists, who were most eager to get back to work.

"Anytime you miss one or two days of work, it's a big catch-up for that," Bryant said. "16 days in a row is a tremendous catch-up, so it'll take them into middle of next week before they get caught up."

It's work that's appreciated by over a million visitors per year, especially Shanna Warner.

"I heard it was back up, and I was like, ‘We're going to Mount Scott today! It's back up!'" Warner said.

The refuge is open to the public 7 days per week, but they close at night. So before you head out, make sure you're visiting between the hours of 8:00AM and 4:30PM, or you could face some fines.

For a complete rundown of seasonal rules and regulations of the area, you can contact the refuge's visitor center.

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