The retired Mobile couple said they spent today hiking trails in and around the Talladega National Forest, encountering dozens of tentless and unoccupied campsites.
“We’ve had the whole place to ourselves,” Jim said. “We haven’t seen anybody.”
The Doyles had stopped off at the Heflin office of the Shoal Creek District for the Talladega National Forest this afternoon to get help reading a map, only to be greeted by a sign posted on the door reading, “Due to a lapse in federal government funding, the facility is closed.”
“It’s pretty inconvenient,” said Patty, with a map stretched out over her and Jim’s laps.
The federal government shutdown has effectively closed one of Alabama’s largest wildlife and recreation areas. Since Congress failed to reach a budget deal by its Oct. 1 deadline, visitors to the local forest have been told to leave campgrounds, as gates have closed and services such as trash pickup and bathroom cleaning have been suspended. Karen McKenzie, the ranger at the Shoal Creek District of the forest, said she cannot accept volunteer help while the park’s offices are closed, and most of the staff has been furloughed.
McKenzie referred questions about the shutdown to the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., but a call to that office today reached an automated message stating the office was understaffed. The voicemail box for the number was full as of noon.
The shutdown has also been an inconvenience for Tom Randle, an amateur radio operator who serves as a communication link between public safety agencies and participants of the Alabama Yellowhammer Pioneer Endurance Ride, a 150-mile horse riding event scheduled in the forest from Thursday to Saturday.
Randle said his crews were asked to leave the Warden Station Horse Camp and a campsite near Coleman Lake early this morning, and the third day of the event will have to be canceled due to lack of campsites available for horse riders.
“We’re just camping out in the woods now,” Randle said. “It wasn’t something we were expecting at all, but we’re working it out.”
During the shutdown, hiking trails are still open and accessible, McKenzie said, but visitors will have to call 911 or the local sheriff’s office in case of emergency.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.