By Sarah Kucharski • Columnist
The government shutdown went into effect on the first night I arrived in Yosemite National Park. There was no phone call at midnight, no note on the door in the morning. The birds still chirped, and the redwood trees still perfumed the air. Yet there was a great sense of angst. At the park hotel’s front desk, I was just one of many tourists asking what to do next — do we stay, or do we go? The road to Glacier Point already had been closed, making the day’s planned hikes impossible. The stables were shuttered too, which meant no mule rides. Restaurants and retail operations within the valley would be closing during the next 48 hours. And so we packed our bags, shoved everything back into our rental car, and left.
All Nicole Smith could do last week was try to keep the doors open.
Either the shutdown of the federal government would end, or North Carolina officials would tell her they don’t have the million of dollars necessary to cover childcare costs for needy infants and toddlers in the state, some of whom spend their days at her small center in Waynesville.
From wedding planners to elk tour guides to non-profit organizations, the closing of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hasn’t only disrupted the livelihood of federal workers.
The park is home to a wide variety of outside enterprises working independently yet inextricably tied to it. In many ways, the federal impasse that caused the ongoing shutdown has hurt these operations more than the federal workers who have been furloughed.
Freedom may not ring Tuesday.
At least not from the Liberty Bell. I know, I know, the bell doesn’t ring any more, but freedom surely emanates from it — at least if it’s open to the public and the way things were looking as I wrote this column Monday night, it wouldn’t be come Tuesday.
The impasse at the federal level will touch all areas of operation at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, closing picnic areas, campgrounds, bathrooms, visitor centers and historic sites.
The tourism industry in Western North Carolina is not letting the shut down of visitor facilities on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or national forests in the region darken their spirits as the mountains head into the busiest tourism time of the year.
When Joe and Dolly Parker approached the entrance of the Deep Creek campground Tuesday morning, the sign read “Office Closed.”
“We can’t believe this,” Dolly said.
A retired couple from Key Largo, Fla., the Parkers spend upwards of five months each year traveling and camping around the country. Joe rides his motorcycle, with Dolly following behind in their campervan. Amid of all their stops, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of their favorites.