Neosho National Fish Hatchery Manager Dave Hendrix showed up to work early Thursday, because he just couldn't wait to open the gates to the public once again.

The hatchery, like most federally run facilities, had been closed for more than two weeks, since the federal government shutdown went into effect Oct. 1.

"I was here at 7 this morning just to open the gates!" Hendrix said. "I wanted to get out here and get them open so that when people had to go to work they could see that the place was opening up."

Along with the public, the hatchery also welcomed back seven of their nine employees on Thursday. Those employees had been furloughed throughout the shutdown.

"They really wanted to be here," Hendrix said. "I've got a wonderful staff. They care about and take pride in what they do, they realize that we're all public servants and they make a big difference in the community."

Hendrix, as well as the hatchery's lead biologist, had been allowed to stay on during the shutdown to care for the trout, sturgeon and mussels.

Also in Newton County, the gates were opened up once again at the George Washington Carver National Monument, where a crew of 13 employees returned to work Thursday morning.

The monument employs a total of 14 workers, though the facility manager had been allowed to work throughout the shutdown.

Jim Heaney, Carver manager, said the monument's employees are happy to get back to work.

"Everybody's thrilled, I know I am!" Heaney said.

Employees at both the hatchery and the Carver monument began playing catch-up on Thursday, having to make up for 16 days of lost time.

Heaney said Thursday included catching up on "tons" of email, as well as starting to reschedule some school group tours that had to be postponed during the shutdown.

"We had 16 school groups, which totaled about 900 kids," Heaney said of the postponed tours.

He said the monument also lost out on several visitors. During the fall, Heaney said the monument averages 100 to 200 daily visitors.

"The fall's a great time to be here," Heaney said. "If we're having gorgeous weather, we have pretty heavy visitation."

He said this is also the time of year when Carver employees are working on year-end reports and employee appraisals, which also got pushed back.

There had also been a new visitor film on the life of Carver in the works, though that too has had to be postponed.
And with the gates to the Carver monument locked up for two weeks, the organization's more than 100 volunteers were also shut out.

The Carver monument had been planning a special night of recognition for their large group of volunteers, to be held Thursday night, though that too has been postponed.

"I just want to take the opportunity to really thank the community for standing by us," Heaney said. "We've had a very supportive public and we're grateful for that."

Hendrix said those at the hatchery are also happy to be able to let the community back in.

"People were blowing their horns, giving thumbs up, it's just wonderful," Hendrix said. "People are so supportive. We get a lot of walkers walking, people coming in and having picnics and all that and we had to lock all that out until this thing was over. I'm just so glad our leaders came together and got it worked out and everything's open again."

Hendrix said the hatchery also had to cancel their share of events during the shutdown, including a family reunion, a class reunion, and school tours.

He noted the affect of the hatchery closure on members of the public as well, and gave the example of one of the hatchery's frequent visitors, a woman who walks to downtown Neosho most days, and cuts through the hatchery grounds during her walk, usually stopping to rest on one of the benches before continuing on.

"One day after the shutdown, I saw her outside the gate looking at the little sign and realizing she'd have to walk all the way around to get to downtown where she goes everyday," Hendrix said. "That was sad."

He said he didn't see the frequent visitor on Thursday, but guessed she had been among the many who returned to the hatchery grounds when it reopened.

Hatchery staff started the process of catching up on two weeks of work Thursday as well, shipping out more than 3,000 pounds of fish, and starting to fill the ponds.

Hendrix said the two employees had done what they could while the rest of the staff was furloughed, but it wasn't the same as having the full staff on hand.

"We missed our staff," Hendrix said. "It was like being incomplete. We couldn't do a lot of things because our whole staff wasn't here, so we just did what we could."