If you are coming to see the fall leaf season in the Great Smoky Mountains and expecting a ghost town because national parks in Tennessee and North Carolina remain closed because of the government shutdown, you are in for a surprise.
Fall color is just starting to peak higher up in the mountains and the main tourist areas of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville were packed this weekend and are still busier than a normal fall leaf season. Some other areas which are more park dependent such as Townsend Tennessee and Cherokee N Carolina are feeling the brunt of the closures.
Cabin rental companies, hotels and campgrounds outside the park are busier than ever and so are most of the restaurants as the majority of those cancelling their trips where those who were going to camp in the national park which is forbidden during the government closure.
Concessionaires such as the Horseback Riding Stables in the national park have taken a huge hit. Trail guides, stable hands and cashiers in many cases barley make enough to take them paycheck to paycheck which they now have not seen for more than a week. Rumors claimed stables may reopen yesterday, but this is not the case so far.
Also hard hit is the Great Smoky Mountains Association that runs the bookstores/gift shops in the Visitor Centers which are all now closed in the park. They turn all the proceeds they make back into the park. Besides losing sales, they have been the target of costly vandalism.
Other businesses dramatically affected are guide companies that take hikers, tourists and anglers in the park as well photographers and persons performing weddings within the park boundary. Fortunately for many of these companies they can convince so of their clients to takes more expensive further trips away, but not all customers are willing or can handle the additional expense.
One of the well known and established businesses that have really felt the pinch is the Hike Inn which provides accommodations and services for hikers on the Appalachian Trail on the North Carolina Side along with shuttle services to the Slick Rock Wilderness Area, Nantahala National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, the Benton Mackaye Trail and the Bartram trail.
With all the hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains national park officially closed, most of the overnight hikers are gone. For hikers looking to remain legal and bypass the park during the closure, the Hike Inn will pick you up at Davenport Gap and take you to where the trail begins again outside the park in Fontana or the other way around.
Another small business that has ground to a halt during the shutdown is Cataloochee Valley Tours run by Esther Blakely whose well trained and seasoned knowledge of the elk reintroduction program in the Great Smoky Mountains national park make her the best possible tour guide in the area.
Since the park is now closed when the majority of the heavy elk rut activity occurs which is also the fall leaf season, none of the elk tours in the park can be conducted. Elk activity outside the GSMNP which does occur, is not dependable enough to conduct tours, so sadly is Cataloochee Valley Tours and its customers must wait this closure out as best they can.
As it stands right now, offers to staff part of the Great Smoky Mountains national park with Blount County public safety employees has been turned down by the park service and the states of Tennessee and North Carolina have not worked out an agreement to fund the park with state monies such as what was done in parks in Colorado and Utah.
During Saturday morning, around 100 people at its peak peacefully demonstrated by the National Park entrance sign near Gatlinburg Tennessee to reopen this national park. During the entire demonstration the park service kept a very low profile with rangers observing the demonstration from a distance in their SUV.
Who and what they were trying to convince with this demonstration was still not clear after talking to demonstrators who did not understand the full complexity and legality of a government shutdown, what and how services are decided to be closed and by whom, and what it will take to reopen facilities in the national park.
The demonstration would have been most effective if it was in North Carolina and directed at people who can authorize the spending of state funds with the state of Tennessee to reopen the park.
The park as of this moment still remains closed to all cars, hiking, horseback riding and biking, other than on the 3 open park roads: Newfound Gap Road, The Gatlinburg Bypass and the Spur.
Most parking areas for hiking trails remain blockaded along newfound Gap Road and contrary to what many are claiming, hiking is the park is not allowed. Most scenic pullouts along Newfound Gap Road remain open at this time as well as the Newfound Gap Parking area and the Newfound Gap parking area bathrooms.
As long as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains closed due to the government shutdown, the picnic areas, visitor centers, campground and campsites all remain closed. Other buildings and structure in the park such as bathrooms and historic buildings also remain closed as well.
Right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Blue Ridge Parkway which is now open for the entire length all the way to Virginia. Blue Ridge Parkways Visitor Centers, Bathrooms and picnic areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway remain closed; however the Pisgah In and Restaurant and the Folk Art Center near Asheville are both upon again to the public.
None of the hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway are blocked off at this timer and many of them such as Graveyard Fields which is in full fall color peak right now, are quite busy.
The good news is that not only are these trials not blocked off, they are not officially listed as closed by the National Park Service is a press release on 10/01 by Chief Ranger Stinnett of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There are still lots to see and do in the Smokies even though the park is closed and if you are looking to do something different and be a help to the local economy which is feeling the most from this shutdown, visit Cherokee North Carolina.
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