The Great Smoky Mountains National Park ran out of temporary funding Tuesday night.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association had donated $51,000 to help pay 15 rangers so they could staff visitors centers, take care of restroom cleaning and haul away trash at the park for the last 11 days.
“It was really only a stopgap measure,” said GSMA Chief Executive Officer Laurel Rematore. “There is just no way that our organization could afford to actually fund all aspects of park operations.”
Weather permitting, roads and trails that are open seasonally in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will remain accessible to visitors.
“We’re just taking it day by day right now. I think it was probably a wise course of action that the park service has taken to cone things off but it makes me very nervous,” added Rematore.
There are concerns containers will overflow and wildlife will get into the trash. In the meantime, Rematore suggests you take your trash with you out of the Smokies, use facilities in surrounding communities, come prepared with proper supplies for your hike, and thoroughly plan your trip with routes ahead of time.
“And I would encourage you, wherever you are, if you see a piece of trash on the ground, go ahead and pick it up if you think you can do so safely because otherwise the situation will get out of hand very quickly,” she added.
The Spyrkas, visiting from Mobile, Alabama, planned for some time to visit East Tennessee and say since being in town it’s much less crowded than expected.
“Well we’re going to go to Cades Cove from here. So, I’m a little bit nervous about finding restroom facilities and if we need snacks or drinks but we’re excited and I think it’s going to be okay,” said Todd Spyrka.
For the Guanaga family, visiting from Chattanooga, they say it’s sad to see how much people are missing out on in the Smokies.
“You come here to be out in nature, not just in like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge but actually go out and hike the trails, short trails or long trails. With the Visitor’s Centers being closed, it’s difficult for them,” said Alejandro Guanaga.
Many now hoping there’s a quick resolution.
“We need our outdoors. It’s part of our country, it’s part of what makes America grand and beautiful is having the Smokies to go to,” added Guanaga.
We’re told park rangers are still around to respond to emergencies, but Rematore says that supplemental staff who might normally help in an event like a search and rescue have been furloughed. However, she adds NPS has a means, if needed, to call someone back in from furlough in the case of a major emergency.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have prepared two bills aimed at ending the partial government shutdown. A vote is expected to be brought up Thursday after the new Congress is sworn in.