by Joni Astrup
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge’s largest public event of the year has been canceled due to the federal government shutdown.
The refuge’s 20th Annual Fall Wildlife Festival was set for Saturday, Oct. 5, at the refuge near Zimmerman. But it was canceled as the entire refuge closed to the public on Oct. 1 when current funding expired.
“It is extremely disappointing,” said Sue Hix, president of the Friends of Sherburne, which was co-sponsoring the event with the refuge. “We have a huge investment in this whole day.”
She said previous wildlife festivals have attracted 1,600 to 1,800 people and they were hoping for a crowd of 2,000 this year. More than 100 volunteers were involved in the event.
The free wildlife festival was to feature live animals, horse-drawn wagon rides, nature crafts, face-painting, geocaching, educational events and food. Sparky Stensaas, a photographer, author and naturalist, was to share tips and tricks for getting great wildlife photos. The Friends of Sherburne also planned to host its first 5K run/walk as part of the festival. The Friends were able to order the T-shirts without the date on them so they will be able to use them at a later time, Hix said.
She noted that the cancellation has a ripple effect.
“All the people that would have come to our area and then they’re going to need gas or food or they’re going to go shopping, all that’s gone now,” she said.
Hix said they waited until 3 p.m. Wednesday to officially cancel the wildlife festival, just in case the shutdown would be resolved by then.
“It would have been a lot easier if we would have just said we’ll pull the plug Tuesday morning when they were shutting the refuge down,” Hix said. “But we just didn’t want to do it. Sometimes miracles happen.”
The wildlife festival is held annually in October in conjunction with National Wildlife Refuge Week, and a time when many refuges host events. “We’re not the only refuge to have this problem, believe me,” she said.