“The elk are bugling—such a beautiful sound across the woods,” but there’s nobody here to hear them,” sighed Duane Cameron, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcment Officer. “Except for the unusual heat and humidity this year, this is one of the most popular seasons at Land Between the Lakes, and . . . “ his voice trailed off.
There was little need to discuss the Washington political scene that has shuttered and locked all of the venues in Land Between the Lakes, including the potty sheds. Closed. Shuttered. Locked. From the Lyon County border of the Between the Rivers area, at the Canal Bridge, all facilities are posted and either locked or gated to include the Welcome Station, the Woodlands Nature Station, the Elk and Bison Prairie, and the Golden Pond Visitor Center, which includes the Planetarium.
“The animals at the Nature Station are being cared for by their own handlers,” commented Cameron. “The people who take care of them all the time, including the elk and bison and the farm animals at the Homeplace are ‘excepted’ employees from the ‘shutdown’, so everyone can be relieved that nothing has changed for them, except they can’t pose for pictures with their visitors.” While animals, of course, should be able to fend for themselves in the wild, the animals at the Woodlands Nature Station are rescue animals who depended upon humans to rescue them from whatever circumstances that may have injured them or made them orphans. The elk and bison in the prairie are monitored by employees and volunteers, and the bison on the larger range over the Tennessee line are monitored, as well.
The law enforcement officers are also on patrol, making sure that those who are taking the opportunity to hike some available trails and bicycle The Trace are safe, along with making sure that no others try to take advantage of the area. As of Thursday afternoon (Oct. 4), “Hunting seasons are still scheduled,” according to Cameron, “as long as hunters already have their permits and licenses, because there is no way to get any paperwork completed now. That also goes for backcountry camping,” he went on. “We also have a little back-country camping as long as they already had their permits, but the facilities are locked, so . . .it pretty rugged, if they want to stay very long.”
The drive along The Trace, where the leaves have just begun to change color in the October heat, was a solitary journey, reminiscent of the 2009 ice storm. One solitary young couple was at the northern entrance securing their child into a bicycle child carrier, preparing for a journey. A Coca Cola truck traveled southward on The Trace to “change out” the drinks at the Golden Pond Visitor Center, only to find a gated barrier that prevented him completing his tasks. The only visible maintenance in the area was by state mandated mowing crews who were taking advantage of the light traffic to complete their roadside tasks.
There were no broken trees or “hangers” suspended precariously, but the silence that was enforced from a Washington mandate was a reminder of how quickly things can change in Between the Rivers. While employees knew that a “shutdown” was possible, they worked until the very last moment, and when the call came, they had very little time to set their e-mails to “auto-reply” and depart from their offices, cut off from their jobs and prohibited from returning until members of the U.S. Congress relent. Oddly enough, it is not the first time that that the U.S. government has taken charge of the “Land Between the Rivers” and the actitivites that do (or do not) occur on its property.
On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released information that all campgrounds and day-use parks would be closed by noon. Later in the day, they announced day-use parks and boat ramps would remain open.
More information on how the shutdown effect area public use facilities will be featured in Wednesday's Herald Ledger.