How nice it was to have closure at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
No, no! Not the record 35-day closure caused by the federal government shutdown. We’re referring to the shutting of roads, offices and visitor centers on Tuesday due to the season’s first snow accumulation. Those closures we appreciate as necessary, even beautiful to behold for those hearty enough to hike through the cold powder.
There was something ironic about it, though. The first day after the park was finally fully staffed with rangers on Monday, it was shut tighter than it ever was when volunteers from the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies carried the load.
You can’t say Mother Nature doesn’t have a wicked sense of timing. Winter weather is nature’s way, which is appropriate because the park exists as a wonder of nature. As to wondering what Washington is up to, that’s just bewildering.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the whole sorry federal shutdown episode that forced the Coast Guard and others to scramble to survive without paychecks cost the economy $11 billion. That takes into account the output lost from workers not working, government spending delayed, and slowed demand due to routine paperwork that didn’t happen while offices were vacated.
Eleven billion dollars, who can even count that high? Comprehending what that kind of money means in real terms might be easy for those in D.C. who created this mockery of governance. Some probably have had that much money filter through their personal portfolios over the years. Working Americans can’t count on that.
Back down to earth in these foothills where boots, not Gucci loafers, are the footwear of choice, people pocket dollars in small denominations.
Folks appreciate there’s no entrance stations to the Smokies. For Blount Countians and other residents around the park, it’s only natural to drive in on impulse. There’s no ticket needed to ride these federal roads. We already paid for this park. (Read your Smokies history.)
But as for the $11 billion wasted? That many dollars are hard for working folks to wrap their minds around. To get an idea of the amount of money flushed during the shutdown, just imagine that every visitor to the Smokies last year was halted at an entrance station, just like at other major national parks. But instead of paying a fee ($35 per private vehicle at Yosemite, for example) just suppose each visitor to the Smokies was handed 10 Benjamins. Those $100 bills with Franklin’s face on the front would total $1,000.
Nice, huh? Regular folks can relate to that amount — appreciate it even. Do it for every recreational visitor to the Smokies over the course of a year and the grand total reaches $11 billion. It’s easy to do the math because 11 million visitors visit the Smokies each year.
The point being, $11 billion is a lot of money. Way too much to be wasted — even by Washington standards, where giving away billions of taxpayers’ dollars to soothe egos of the Gucci’d class is a national pastime.
Here’s a hint from the hinterlands: Not in these hills it isn’t.