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Government Re-Opens, Parks Back In Business

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Capt. Randy Towe, right,  guides Greg Poland searching for mangrove snapper in Everglades National Park Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, near Islamorada, Fla. Thursday was the first day that Florida Keys guides and others could fish in the park's Florida Bay waters since a Washington budget impasse closed down much of the Federal government for 16 days.  (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Capt. Randy Towe, right, guides Greg Poland searching for mangrove snapper in Everglades National Park Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, near Islamorada, Fla. Thursday was the first day that Florida Keys guides and others could fish in the park’s Florida Bay waters since a Washington budget impasse closed down much of the Federal government for 16 days. (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau)

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MIAMI (CBS4) – After more than two weeks it’s back to work for thousands of furloughed federal employees.

Late Wednesday night Congress passed a plan to avoid a default and end a 16 day partial government shutdown.

The votes came in late, but just in time to avoid the crisis. Just after midnight President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.

At Everglades National Park, the gates re-opened just before 9 a.m. The park’s superintendent said he sent a message to their nearly 300 furloughed employees that they could return to work shortly after President Obama signed the legislation.

It will take a couple of hours to get everything up and running at the park once the employees return.

Greg Poland, left,  casts a spinning rod with Captain Randy Towe while fishing in Everglades National Park Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, near Islamorada, Fla. Thursday was the first day that Florida Keys guides and others could fish in the park's Florida Bay waters since a Washington budget impasse closed down much of the Federal government for 16 days.  (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Greg Poland, left, casts a spinning rod with Captain Randy Towe while fishing in Everglades National Park Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, near Islamorada, Fla. Thursday was the first day that Florida Keys guides and others could fish in the park’s Florida Bay waters since a Washington budget impasse closed down much of the Federal government for 16 days. (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau)

“We are certainly pleased that the shutdown is over,” said Chief Ranger Allen Etheridge. “We certainly need our visitors to exercise a little patience with us since we’ve been gone from work for a couple of weeks.”

Popular fishing waters in national parks in the Florida Keys are also reopening, now that the partial government shutdown is over.

Dry Tortugas National Park fully reopened as well Thursday.

“We are very happy to be back at work serving the American people and welcoming visitors to Dry Tortugas National Park,” said Park Manager Glenn Simpson.   “Weather in the Florida Keys this time of year is wonderful!  I’d encourage all to come visit the Dry Tortugas and enjoy all this park has to offer.”

The closure of Everglades National Park had put almost all of Florida Bay off limits to fishermen but Thrusday the Florida Keys fishing guides began returning to Florida Bay waters of the park.

Park Superintendent Dan Kimball emailed commercial fishermen early Thursday to say he was opening the bay immediately, along with other areas of the park that do not depend on the reopening of facilities or the return of furloughed staff.

Islamorada guide Randy Towe, who had organized a peaceful rally protesting the park’s closure last Wednesday near the park’s eastern boundary, was among those fishing Thursday morning.

“I’ll tell you what, 16 days, it seems like a month,” Towe, who has fished professionally in the Keys for 35 years. “I saw most everybody I know in town with their boat, getting gas this morning, getting some bait … once again, we’re back spending money, we’re going fishing, our clients are happy, it’s a great thing.”

Kimball, who also is in charge of Dry Tortugas National Park, said he expects Everglades to be fully operational by Friday morning.

Key West Seaplane Adventures have received permission to begin service today with a 10 a.m. flight to Fort Jefferson National Monument in the Dry Tortugas. The Fort Jefferson Ferry has been in dry dock for scheduled maintenance throughout most of the closure, and is scheduled to resume trips early next week.

In addition to funding the government and lifting the debt ceiling, the legislation signed by President Obama authorized retroactive pay for the nearly 300,000 employees who were furloughed.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.)

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