Get out in 48 hours: Smokies closing in government shutdown; campers told to leave
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Unless the U.S. Congress managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund federal government operations late Monday, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation, will be closed today.
Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said only connector roads through the park will remain open during any shutdown. “The Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee will remain open to through traffic and the Gatlinburg Bypass and the Spur (U.S. 441) will remain open, but all the rest of the park will close — all picnic areas, campgrounds, backcountry trails, visitor centers and concession operations.”
Those already staying in the Park will be given ample time to leave. “Overnight guests will be given adequate time to vacate the Park,” Schroer said. “Refunds will be provided although we don’t have guidance on that procedure yet.”
Guests will have about 48 hours to leave Park campgrounds. As of Monday night, around 200 campsites have been reserved throughout the Park.
Harold and Carolyn Moore had arrived at Elkmont Campground on Monday afternoon for a 10-day stay. It was an eight-hour drive from their home in Illinois. Needless to say, they weren’t amused by the idea of the Park having to close.
“He (Harold) looks forward to this trip every year,” Carolyn Moore said. “If we have to cut it short when we’ve had reservations since March, it’s not going to make him happy.”
Another couple, Al and Sandy Mitchell of Cleveland, Ohio, were enjoying a stay at the campground on Monday. “We’re very disappointed to hear about the possibility because we’re on vacation,” Al Mitchell said.
“There are a lot of other people who are camping and enjoying the Park, too,” Sandy Mitchell said.
Emergency personnel, including Park rangers, will remain on duty through the shutdown, Schroer said.
Blount Partnership communications director Jeff Muir said a shutdown is a matter of concern. “Obviously this is something that affects every citizen and many services we rely upon. We hope the federal government can come to an agreement quickly. In the meantime, we will continue normal operations and do as much as we can to help those that are affected by the shutdown.”
If the Park is closed, Blount Partnership will continue promoting the county to visitors. “We will continue to provide services to visitors and promote Blount County as a destination. We have many attractions that are for visitors of all ages providing great experiences and memories. We continue to support the Park during this challenging time.”
There were 9.5 million people visitors to the Park in 2012. Visitation for June was up 5.2 percent as compared with June 2012.
During June a total of 1.3 million visitors came into the Park, which is 62,434 more than in 2012.
Visitation for January through June 2013, however, is 5.3 percent below the 2012’s January-to-June visitation . The Park has recorded a total of 3.8 million visitors in 2013, which is 210,568 fewer than during the same period in 2012.
June marks the beginning of the busy summer season and is traditionally when visitation numbers reach over 1 million per month. While the visitation is slightly down for the year, monthly visitation has recovered to the traditional levels since the reopening of Newfound Gap Road, which was closed for almost three months due to a landslide.