CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. — Despite the government shutdown, Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River is operating as normal.

  • Thousands visiting for 32nd Annual Manatee Festival
  • Admission to park normally free for the festival
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff being paid using 2018 Fiscal Year funding
  • More Citrus County stories

Thousands of people visited the area for free as part of Crystal River’s 32nd annual Manatee Festival.  

"A lot of people have never been here before so this is the time they come because it's free," said Refuge Manager Joyce Palmer. 

Normally, the park charges an admission fee, but that fee is waived every year for the Manatee Festival.

Crystal River and the State of Florida manage the property the wildlife refuge sits on. U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel staff and manage the refuge.

Those federal employees would normally be furloughed during a government shutdown. The refuge, however, would stay open due to the property being managed by local officials — Fish and Wildlife staff and volunteers just wouldn't be there.

During this government shutdown, however, the refuge is at the moment fully staffed. In fact, the Crystal River location is one of 38 refuges across the country that has been re-staffed for a 30-day period, despite the shutdown.

How are they getting paid? 

According to an amendment to the shutdown notice, U.S. Fish and Wildlife is using funds from the 2018 Fiscal Year to keep the staff at Three Sisters Springs in place. 

Among the staff's responsibilities is to open and close the swimming area into the springs. They keep it closed when lots of manatees are inside the springs, as was the case on Sunday.

Volunteers, meanwhile are there to interact with the crowds. 

"We have roughly 120 volunteers that help us with environmental interpretation on the boardwalk,” Palmer explained. "They do manatee watch, so they interact with visitors in the water, educating the public on appropriate interactions with manatees." 

If the shutdown continues into early February, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say the Wildlife Refuge would go back into a shutdown status, which means the staff and volunteers wouldn’t be present.