Great Smokies park preparing to close if government shuts down

Great Smokies park preparing to close if government shuts down

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By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Reporter

GATLINBURG (WATE) - With a federal government shutdown looming, officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are preparing to close it to visitors.

The park was booming with visitors Thursday afternoon. The Sugarlands Visitors Center was packed and so were the hiking trails.

Rangers led two large groups of young children on a nature hike, and a government shut down seemed far from their minds.

Heather Perry and her family traveled to the Smokies from Indiana. "We love the park," she said. "We love all the waterfalls, the wild flowers, the hiking. We have a family tradition of going up and watching a sunrise on Clingmans Dome when we get a chance to be here."

Perry says her family heard about the budget battle in Washington, and made adjustments to their Tennessee vacation because of it.

"That's why we're here today because we knew there was a real possibility we wouldn't be able to do some of the things we wanted to do if things got shut down."

Supervisory Park Ranger Kent Cave explained what a closure might look like for the Smokies.

"All the facilities would be closed, the visitor's centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, concessions, horseback riding concessions, and LeConte Lodge and places like that would all be closed. The roads would be closed," Cave said.

Those who work in the national park may be headed for an unplanned vacation of their own. "Government employees are furloughed without pay unless Congress decides to retroactively pay them," Cave explained.

Jeff Perry hoped his family would be able to take in the beauty of the park all weekend long. "Being able to just enjoy the wilderness, enjoy the environment, educational for the kids, it's all wonderful," he said.

Cave says they hope to keep Highway 441, which runs through the park from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina, open, but details were still being worked out. 

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