Blount County mayor wants county to control Smokies roads

Blount County mayor wants county to control Smokies roads during shutdown

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Mayor Ed Mitchell is requesting the federal government let Blount County open and maintain Smokies roads during the government shutdown. Mayor Ed Mitchell is requesting the federal government let Blount County open and maintain Smokies roads during the government shutdown.
"We cannot just sit by and watch the dysfunction of the federal government operate at the expense of the Blount County citizens," said Mayor Ed Mitchell. "We cannot just sit by and watch the dysfunction of the federal government operate at the expense of the Blount County citizens," said Mayor Ed Mitchell.
Sandy Headrick owns the Highland Manor Inn in Townsend and is already feeling the effects of the Smokies shutdown. Sandy Headrick owns the Highland Manor Inn in Townsend and is already feeling the effects of the Smokies shutdown.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

TOWNSEND (WATE) - Four days into the government shutdown, the impact remains strong in East Tennessee, especially in Smoky Mountains communities that thrive on tourism.

With the park closed, local officials and business owners say they're suffering because of partisan politics in Washington, DC. The mayor of Blount County says he is taking a stand for his community.

Nearly a third of Blount County is inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Mayor Ed Mitchell is requesting the federal government let Blount County open and maintain the park roads during the shutdown, allowing visitors to enjoy the changing colors, take pictures, hike and fish.

However, the campsites, riding stables and concession bar would remain closed.

"We cannot just sit by and watch the dysfunction of the federal government operate at the expense of the Blount County citizens," said Mayor Mitchell.

Mayor Mitchell sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Thursday asking her to allow county authorities take over the national park while the federal government is shut down.

"We're right in the middle of peak season for the changes in the colors on the trees. There's no place more beautiful in the country than right here," said Mitchell.

Mayor Mitchell says the Townsend Volunteer Fire Department would be first responders for the park, and the sheriff's office would monitor traffic and investigate accidents to keep visitors safe.

"When they come to see the colors and visit the park, they bring the tourism dollars, and that's what generates the revenue," he said.

"October is our busiest month of the year and that helps us get through the winter," said Sandy Headrick.

Headrick owns the Highland Manor Inn in Townsend and is already feeling the effects of the Smokies shutdown.

"Most of our guests come to hike in groups. That's large blocks of rooms, and when they cancel, my housekeeping staff doesn't get paid and neither do the hiking guides. It trickles down and affects us all," she said.

A spokesperson for the National Parks Service says while they appreciate offers of support and temporary assistance to reopen various parks around the country, they cannot accept them.

"There are 401 national parks that comprise the National Park System, which is managed for the common benefit of all the people of the United States, and requires federal appropriations to fulfill its mission and responsibilities.  As a result of the lapse in that funding, the entire National Park System is closed and cannot be reopened until funding is restored.  Beyond the legal constraints involved, it would not be appropriate or feasible to open some parks or some parts of parks while other parts of the National Park System remain closed to the public," said Spokesperson Mike Litterst in a prepared release.

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