Potential government shutdown threatens Smokies | News
(WBIR) A looming government shutdown scheduled to start 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, would have a major impact on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, during its second busiest month of the year.
Park spokesperson Dana Soehn told 10News Sunday that most park facilities, roads and campgrounds would close if a shutdown were to occur. However, she said that nothing will close until the park gets word from the Director of the National Parks Service, which she said isn't expected to happen anytime before Tuesday morning.
"If we get the word from the Director of NPS on Tuesday morning, then we will be closing most of the park facilities. That includes the back country, our visitors centers, restrooms, and most of the park roads," Soehn said.
Another casualty of the possible shutdown, Soehn said, is only 47 of the park's 326 employees would remain on duty throughout the shutdown. Those primarily make up law enforcement personnel and maintenance workers who take care of water treatment facilities and other areas affecting human health safety.
"For the 279 employees that will be furloughed during the government shut down, we do not anticipate receiving any kind of pay during that time period," Soehn said.
For the park, a shutdown couldn't come at a worse time. Fall-color leaf season about to get underway.
Soehn said on average 1.1 million visitors flock to the park each October to enjoy the fall colors, making it the second busiest month of the year.
But for now, all Soehn and the rest of the park's workers can do is wait.
"We are not taking any presumptive steps to shut down the park. We will be waiting just like the rest of America for our direction. Although, we are taking prudent steps in planning," Soehn said.
If a government shutdown were to occur on Tuesday:
- Most park facilities would be closed; includes back country, visitors centers, restrooms and almost all park roads
- All campgrounds, concessions areas would be closed including picnic areas and day-use areas. Campers and overnight guests at Mt. LeConte would be given 48 hours to leave
- All ranger programs, volunteer activities and any special events would be canceled
- The only roads that would remain open during a shutdown would be Highway 441, Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, along with the Gatlinburg-to-Pigeon Forge part of the spur and Gatlinburg bypass. Soehn said those are critical arteries which have been authorized to remain open
- Foothills Parkway East and West would be closed
- 279 of the park's 326 employees would be furloughed. No pay expected for them during that time period
- 47 people would remain on duty, mostly handling law enforcement and park maintenance
- Nothing would be closed until the park gets official word from the National Parks Director
If the park does shut down, residents and businesses across Sevier will also likely be impacted.
Joe Dybas owns the shop, Another Me Clothier, in Gatlinburg. He says about 90 percent of his business are tourists.
He said a closure would be devastating.
"There would be no reason to come here," he said.
Dybas said similar crises have come and gone before. He said he believes the government will not shut down.
Leon Downey, the Pigeon Forge Director of Tourism, said he is hoping for the same. However, Downey did say if a closure were to occur, his tourism department would be prepared.
"We have about 250,000 Facebook fans, over 500,000 people on our email database," he said. "So we can communicate with them once we know the full extent of the closure."