Furloughed employees at the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge headed back to the office Thursday after the government shutdown ended.
Now, the hard part begins -- trying to catch up on more than two weeks of missed work.
After 16 days, the gates at the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge are finally unlocked, but the open field isn't the only thing with butterflies.
“The word ‘great’ just doesn't capture the feeling,” said Paula Ogden-Muse, the visitor and services manager at the refuge.
She was one of the nine full-time staff members furloughed during the government shutdown and could not wait to physically get back to work.
“Even though you they tell you, ‘You can't work,’ they tell you, ‘You can't go to the visitors center and check your email,’ but you just can't stop your brain from working and still wanting to serve people,” said Ogden-Muse.
But as excited as she is, she knows making up for lost time won't be easy.
“We lost opportunities to work with schoolchildren, we lost opportunities to work with veterans (and) we lost opportunities to work with the public,” said Ogden-Muse.
“We sat down this morning and had to reprioritize our priorities,” said Jim Nissen, the refuge’s La Crosse district manager.
Training sessions, as well as several school and community events, had to be canceled during the shutdown. It also delayed some field research that needed to be done.
Nissen said while some things can be rescheduled, it may be too late for others.
“Some of the vegetation monitoring we had scheduled probably won't happen, just because of where we're at in the fall right now," said Nissen. "Some of the work setting out the buoys, checking boundaries and that kind of thing, those are going to be the priority.”
It's not exactly the position they want to be in, but Nissen hopes it won't happen again.
“It's a challenge, that's for sure,” said Nissen. “Hopefully we're through it now and we don't see it again, and we can move forward.”
Nissen said some of the events that had to be canceled during the shutdown would have brought in people from across the country, which meant lost dollars in the local economy for hotel stays and meal expenses.
The Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to start issuing trap tags Oct. 7 for the upcoming waterfowl and hunting season but couldn't because of the shutdown. It will be open Sunday to issue tags.