Government Shutdown Blues

by Katie Nyberg, Executive Director

As we enter into the third week of federal government shutdown, I wanted to shine a light on what is and isn’t happening at the Mississippi River Fund and our national park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
This park doesn’t have a main entrance gate and the river isn’t closed. Yet, our community is feeling the effects of the government shutdown in a number of ways.
All park staff except for one (Alan Robbins-Fenger) are still furloughed. As project manager for Coldwater Spring, Alan is watching over Coldwater and watering all of the newly planted trees and shrubs. Coldwater Spring remains closed to the public along with the park’s visitor center at the Science Museum of Minnesota. All park programs have been cancelled, including joint public programs offered by the Mississippi River Fund. All volunteer events, including the annual volunteer recognition dinner, have been cancelled or postponed as well, which has greatly affected our ability to deal with buckthorn at Coldwater Spring, since October is the best time to remove and treat this invasive plant.
Park Ranger Abby Olson with Junior Rangers
One of the most striking effects of the shutdown has been on the Big River Journey program, which is funded by the Mississippi River Fund. Many of the school field trips for the Big River Journey program proceeded as scheduled this fall before the shutdown occurred. However, there was one week of river field trips that had to be modified given the lack of park rangers. Thanks to our partners, especially Padelford Riverboats, these modified trips did occur and the Mississippi River Fund was able to provide scholarships for schools, as planned.

Big River Journey's sister program, "Journey to the Falls," was completely cancelled this year due to the shutdown. Given the nature of the river field trip in Minneapolis, it simply could not happen without park rangers. We are hoping to re-schedule all of those schools for trips in the spring.                                            

Park Ranger Sharon Stiteler counting
birds via airplane last year
The Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program continues this fall without participation from NPS Rangers, which has been problematic for curriculum development and delivery, and certainly has caused logistical headaches for our program partners at Wilderness Inquiry. Fortunately, however, the trips have proceeded as scheduled.
Sadly, the annual migrating bird survey that we do in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was also cancelled. This study has been in operation for several years and now will be missing an important data year for the long term monitoring of migrating birds along the Mississippi Flyway.
The Mississippi River Fund remains "open for business" and we look forward to welcoming back our park colleagues once this crisis is over. We are filling in for the park where we can and leading communications to keep park constituents informed. We want to thank members, donors and volunteers for their steadfast support of the park and the Mississippi River Fund.