Mayor Ed Mitchell: Blount County could step up to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell is asking the federal government if the county could take financial responsibility to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park to tourist traffic.
Mitchell has sent a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking if the county could pay for employees to keep Cades Cove and the Foothills Parkway open or if it could provide security, emergency services and supervision to allow the areas of the Park in Blount County to be open for tourism.
“I have asked Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to allow Blount County to enter into an agreement that would allow the park to stay open for the traffic at no cost to the federal government,” he said. “I would hope they would consider this matter as seriously as we do and respond quickly and favorably.”
There were no estimates of how much it would cost the county to provide those services. “This is a burden we can bear for the benefit,” Mitchell said.
There has been no response to the request, which was emailed to the Department of the Interior on Thursday. A spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Mitchell announced the request at a press conference on Friday, the fifth day of the partial federal government shutdown that has shuttered GSMNP.
“The federal government’s decision to shut down the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and, in particular, Cades Cove and the Foothills Parkway, will have a tremendous impact on the citizens of Blount County,” Mitchell said. “This is the peak time for Park visits by tourists from all over our country.
“For Washington to allow this to happen is absolutely wrong and irresponsible. If they are unable to agree and cooperate on both sides of the aisle in Washington, let us at the local level cooperate and partner to do what needs to be done to keep this country running. We, in Blount County, are offering solutions.”
The National Park Service (NPS) has closed all 401 national parks. In the Smokies, with the exception of the U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C., “The Spur” between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and the Gatlinburg Bypass, the entire Park is closed. This includes all roads, trails and facilities. Visitors are not permitted to walk, bicycle or ride horses on closed roadways. The Park will remain closed until the government reopens.
“Many Blount County businesses and citizens rely on Park visitors for their livelihood,” Mitchell said. “By Washington denying its citizens’ access to this park, they are depriving their citizens and crippling Blount County businesses.”
“We are eighth in the state for economic impact on tourism with $76 million in payroll tax and $10.5 million in local sales tax,” said Tami Vater, director of tourism for the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, in a press release. “We stand to lose a lot if this continues over a long period of time. It’s big business for Blount County.”
The shutdown includes the entire section of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies. The 71-mile section is now closed to thru-hikers and all other users.