The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s most visited, and October is typically one of the park’s busiest months. So far this year, the visitor count is at zero, and businesses that depend on tourism are feeling the pinch.
More than a million visitors flock to the park in an average October. They arrive by the busload to take in the yellows, oranges and reds of the fall foliage
“This time of year, we’re usually swamped,” says Zack Neubert, who works at a restaurant outside the park in Townsend. “This is how I make my living, and if there’s no business here, there’s no money in my pocket.”
The federal government shutdown has forced the closure of all trails and visitor centers. Barricades block motorists from even driving through. The park’s website has been taken down.
More than 300 park employees have been sent home until the funding impasse is resolved. Only a skeleton crew of rangers and maintenance workers were allowed to stay on the job.
One family, planning to picnic at Cades Cove, instead ate their lunch by the park entrance sign. Many of those turned away left annoyed.
“We had been waiting about 50 years for this vacation until my husband retired and here we are,” Florence Gibson of Missouri told WUOT. “It’s disappointing because I think it could have been avoided easily.”
Gibson – a grandmother herself – says members of congress could use a grandmother to give them “a spanking.”
But even to some would-be visitors – like Drema Johnson of West Virginia – being turned away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an acceptable price to pay.
“If they want to close the park so that we don’t get Obamacare, I’m all for it,” she said.
NPR Member Station WUOT in Knoxville contributed to this report.