Park closures will hurt Haywood

Oct 07, 2013

No matter what side of the debate you fall on regarding the reasons behind the partial government shutdown, one thing is clear — the move doesn’t bode well for the fall tourist season.

Visitors are likely to consider other vacation options now that services within the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest are closed until Congress resolves differences over policy and spending issues.

While the Parkway road is open, restrooms and other services are closed, and the gates to popular destinations such as Cataloochee, Deep Creek and Oconoluftee within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are locked.

The shutdown furloughs certain workers without pay, and not only puts barriers across entrance roads into some areas, but even takes down the web sites providing information.

While it is true most park visitors rely on the surrounding communities for places to stay and eat as least some of their meals, the big attraction is the national treasures in our back yard.

The challenge confronting the tourism industry is spreading the word that this may just be the year to experience all the other wonderful attributes in the region that aren’t within the parks and are still welcoming visitors.

The campaign, which is already under way, is certainly true enough. Right here in Haywood County we have the Wheels Through Time Museum, festivals galore, Lake Junaluska and plenty of hiking opportunities that aren’t on federal lands.

The parks service isn’t the only government entity in the region that’s closed until a deal is struck in Washington, but it certainly has the broadest reach here in Haywood. About 70,000 visitors enter some portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway each day in October and more than 35,000 visitors a day travel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during a typical October.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority records show that a 4 percent occupancy tax collected in October 2012 generated more than $100,000. That reflects only the funds visitors spent on accommodations. Once shopping, meals and fuel are factored in, the economic value of tourism in 2012 was pegged at $126 million according the the N.C. Department of Commerce.

No one knows whether the stalemate will end in several days, several weeks or last even longer. But the ripple effects may be severe. Vacations aren’t planned on a whim. Plans made in months earlier that included a visit to a park near Haywood may well be cancelled if the shutdown drags on.

Next to July, there are more tourism dollars in October that keeps cash registers buzzing in restaurants, motels, stores or attractions than in any other month.

It will be tragic if the impasse isn’t resolved quickly. Those who have guests coming in October need to assure them a visit will still be fulfilling, and all need to support one of the county’s largest industries in getting the word out we’re still open for business.

Those in Haywood County — and Western North Carolina — also need to let our Congressional representatives know our concerns.

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