It's happened. The Government shutdown has closed the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to all public use today other than traveling along Newfound Gap Road/US441 from Cherokee North Carolina to Gatlinburg Tennessee.
All other the other Great Smoky Mountains National Parks roads are closed and so are all of the hiking trails, picnic areas, visitor centers, bathrooms, horse stables, streams, scenic overlooks, parking areas, historic buildings, campgrounds and backcountry primitive campsites.
All ongoing scientific studies, park interpretive programs, special events such as weddings, parks as classrooms education programs, have also all been cancelled. Trail rehabilitation and park maintenance has all been stopped and even the park web cam feeds is shut off.
Foothills Parkway East which is outside the park and connects I-40 and 32 in Cosby and the Foothills Parkway West are also both closed.
While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all other National Parks, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Historic sites and National Museums have all closed in the past due to Government Shutdowns, the timing of this closure is especially bad.
If the closure extends by more than a few weeks, it would be disastrous to the local economy which depends on the fall leaf season for a huge percentage of their revenue. Add in government workers being furloughed or not paid and you will see that everyone is feeling the pain.
So far the government shut down in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has cause 279 park employees, 60 concessions employees and 45 Great Smoky Mountains Association employees to be indefinitely put on furlough without pay. This does not count wedding photographers, fishing and private tour guides who pay for permits to work in the park.
Tourists coming into the Great Smoky Mountains to see the best of the Smokies fall leaf season book months in advance. Backcountry and front country campers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have to do the same and sadly can not stay here regardless of reservations.
The elk rut is also in full swing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which attracts thousands of photographers and nature lovers to Cataloochee and Balsam Mountain which are closed.
During October, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park normally sees at least 35,000 visitors on average each day and nationwide the National Park System hosts more than 715,000 visitors a day.
Campers in the national park campgrounds, LeConte Lodge as well as campers in the backcountry campsites have been asked to leave by 6pm Thursday. Some campgrounds are already empty and locked.
There appears to be campgrounds outside the park right now that have extra space, but in the next few weeks, many who thought they could camp here in the Smokies may be out of luck.
National park rangers and other park personnel were clearing out picnic areas, horse stables, locking bathrooms and putting up facility closed signs throughout the park. A very sad day indeed.
Non essential personnel whose numbers have been greatly reduced due to the Sequestration are now being furloughed without pay and they are not alone as about 800,000 federal employees throughout the country lost their income overnight as well.
The more than 3,000 volunteers who work within the park have been asked not to report to duty for as long as the closure takes place.
Law Enforcement Park Rangers will continue to work through the closure although it is not clear if and when they will be paid. I cannot stress enough that there will be no tolerance to those breaking the law such as trespassing on federal land when it is closed to all public use.
We will be providing updates to this story when they become available.
Last Updated 10/01/13 4:55 pm EST
Related Government GSMNP and BRP Closure Articles:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Reopen Tomorrow at 12 Noon. - Posted 10-15-13
Great Smoky Mountains National Park May Reopen Tomorrow – Maybe - Posted 10-15-13
Government Shutdown Affecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park Day 14 - Posted 10-14-13
How Government Shutdown is Affecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Posted 10-08-13
Update to Government Closure of Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Posted 10-05-13
Shutdown Info Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway - Posted 10-03-13