Park services closed until further notice; scenic parkway open for driving

By Vicki Hyatt | Oct 02, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt National Park Service employee Jerry Rice puts up a road closed sign at the entrance to the Waterrock Knob Visitor's Center Tuesday morning.

Visitors to National Park Service across Western North Carolina will find that the parks aren't exactly closed in many instances, but services will be limited.

Tuesday morning as he put up a "Road Closed" sign at the entrance to the Waterrock Knob Visitor's Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jerry Rice said the road through the parkway will remain open.

However, the visitor centers, camping facilities and concessionaires will be closed until the Congressional budget differences are resolved. Rice, who works with water resource issues in the park, said he was putting up the signs on his own time because he was considered a nonessential employee who will be furloughed without pay.

"Essential" employees will include those in the department working with wastewater issues, and law enforcement, which will have a limited staff through the partial government shutdown.

During Phase I, which is 48 hours long, Pisgah Inn will remain open, he said. After that, it will close.

As Rice was putting up the sign, three bikers from Atlanta stopped by in their pickups to see what was going on. All three were federal employees who planned to bike the parkway several weeks ago, not knowing the time spent away from home would be unpaid time off anyway.

George Gonzales travelled with a group of motorcycle friends from Florida to tour the area. The booked rooms in Maggie Valley where they based their day trips planned for at least a month.

"We never knew this was a plan — that the government would shut down," Gonzales said as he took a photo of the parkway overlook near Waterrock Knob. "Why are they doing this? They shouldn't close parks and they should charge to camp. People will pay to see this."

Scott and Jamie Winters left Philadelphia last week for Savannah, Georgia, and planned their return trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway. They spend Monday night in Cherokee, where they entered the parkway, watching news accounts of the Congressional actions that led to the partial government closure.

"It's so ridiculous," Scott Winters said. "We weren't planning on camping, but it looks like we won't be able to get through Skyline because there are ranger stations on both ends. Who knows what we'll encounter."

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy announced the park had closed the trail. There will be limited emergency response, meaning hikers are at their own risk. Volunteers were asked not to work on the trail because tort and coverage will not be in place.

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, U.S. 441 between Cherokee and Gatlinburg remains open, as does a spur road in Tennessee, but other roads in the park, trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, visitor centers, concession areas and parking lots are closed.

This includes the road to Cataloochee where park visitors flock to view the elk that were repopulated in this section of the park, said Christine Hoyer, the volunteer coordinator for the park.

Hoyer was one of the park employees working Tuesday to help with an orderly shutdown of the 500,000 acres in North Carolina and Tennessee that are included in the park.

"Everything ceases until the shut down lifts," Hoyer said. "This is an orderly shutdown that is happening in stages. Folks in campgrounds are being given a time frame to make other arrangements. We're still trying to get the shut down procedures in order."

Holly Demuth, who works in the Waynesville office of Friends of the Smokies, said she has been fielding calls about the closure, though not as many as she anticipated.

"It’s tricky to close down half a million acres," she said. "It's also tricky for the surrounding communities. October is a huge month for tourism in the area. For people traveling from out of town who hear the Smokies are closed, we're trying to get the word out there are other things you can do in the area."

Comments (7)
Posted by: Bruce and Carole Larivee | Oct 02, 2013 07:13

We have our U.S. Congress representative, Mark Meadows, to thank for the closure of the national parks during October, our busiest tourist season.  He is the one who pushed for repeal, defund, or delay of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for funding government operations.  Obamacare is based on the state system in Massachusetts, enacted under a Republican governor, which is working fine.  The uninsured need health care, and Haywood County needs the national parks open!

Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Oct 02, 2013 23:18

Please don't be a partisan hack.

The fault lies squarely in the back of every member of the US Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) past and present.

Posted by: John Benson | Oct 03, 2013 07:20

And let us not forget, as we apportion blame, our President, who refuses to negotiate.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Oct 04, 2013 12:17

       The duly elected and re-elected President Hussein Obama has no obligation to negotiate with subversive ill-liberal terrorists who caused OUR govt's shutdown who now would re-open only those agencies/parts they approve by means of favors granted.           

Not to be repetative, but. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Plus it has been ruled to meet constitutional muster by OUR Supremes. tea party terrorists have had several years to challenge, change, repeal, etc. They failed. The action they are taking now is not supported by OUR Constitution requirements, if anyone care to actually read it. Remember full well, no terrorist has ever attacked OUR Constitution nor the Deistic Founding notion of Naturally inherent inalienable rights beginning at birth whereby the "Social Contract" begins. tea-party subversives have time and again. Subversion is their goal. Submission to follow.


        Chuck Z.



Posted by: Gary Arrington | Oct 05, 2013 16:35

The National Park Service is a disgrace. They spent more money barricading the WW II memorial in Washington they it would have cost to just leave it open. Now, they're barricading the entrance to the privately operated Pisgah Inn, even though the Parkway just a few yards away is still open. The NPS is trying its best to make the shutdown as painful as possible for the public. Its time for Congress to call them on the carpet.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Oct 06, 2013 09:19

          I fully support the National Park Service and the employees thereof. Barb and I have met many of the locals and to a person they are all very fine examples of humanity. They are in fact OUR friends and neighbors. They are public servants. As such, they by the means of OUR shared Constitutions, must equally protect "all persons". When they have been ordered by OUR Congress to go home, they must like any security person, close the doors and secure the facilities.  The owner/workers of the Pisgah Inn aside, it is a minor inconvienience for the public at large. Especially compared to the ill effects on "the least of US."

              Personally, if I were Pres, I would shut down all federal funded services. Starting with the roads. Shut them all down. All airports. Etc, Etc, Etc. All federally funded programs whatsoever. Stand back and liston to the squealers of the tea party traitors. Most reasonable people would understand quite well the purpouse of my actions. As well as the cause. Only fools would blame someone else for their fault, let alone celebrate their actions while pointing finfers.


           Chuck Z. 

Posted by: Gary Arrington | Oct 06, 2013 13:35

...a prime example of how vindictiveness can lead us down paths we would hope we would never go down. The National Park Service EMPLOYEES are not to blame for this disgrace, the orders are coming from their leadership. As one NPS ranger at Mt. Vernon said this week "we have been told to make it as painful as possible".

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