De Soto National Memorial reopens after historic government shutdown

De Soto National Memorial is fully reopened after a monthlong shutdown of the federal government — a relief for both visitors and rangers.

“I was dipping into my savings a little bit, and I have support from friends and family,” said Marielle Lumang, a park guide.

Despite the light drizzle and the overcast sky, visitors walked dogs, rode bikes and hiked the surrounding trails on Saturday afternoon. The scene was a vast improvement over the makeshift parking lots and an overfilled trashcans of weeks’ past.

De Soto National Memorial still drew visitors during the shutdown, but its visitor center, parking lot and bathrooms were all closed, forcing resilient visitors to park alongside the road and brave foul odors.

A dozen cars filled the parking lot on Saturday, while half a dozen people stopped at the visitor center to watch a film, “Hernando DeSoto in America.”

Anthony DeFrank and his daughter, Nova, enjoyed the nearby Manatee River and the cool breeze. It was their first stroll at De Soto National Memorial since the 35-day shutdown ended.

“When they were shut down we kind of avoided the place,” he said. “We heard rumors the trash wasn’t getting picked up.”

Running from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25, it was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. On Friday, President Donald Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks and to continue negotiations, especially when it came to border security.

De Soto National Memorial is once again staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and its “living history” programs will soon resume, said lead ranger Daniel Stephens.

“As of Jan. 26 we are open for business,” he said.