The U.S. Postal Service wants to close Fontana Dam’s tiny post office to save money, a downsizing move critics say would further isolate the small community.
This far-flung outpost in Graham County is frequented by tourists, and serves as a vital waypoint for thousands of hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Despite the region’s remote location, it turns into a bustling place in the summer with throngs of tourists coming to Fontana Village Resort — as well as an influx of seasonal workers topping more than 140. Those seasonal workers rely on post office boxes to get their mail, with so much demand some years the Fontana post office has run out of post office boxes.
Residents also rely on the post office boxes, according to Craig Litz, an employee at Fontana Village Resort.
“You have a significant number of people who live in the village,” Litz said. “Their round trip to the next closest post office is 45 miles.”
And it will hurt the resort as well, he said.
“From a business standpoint we have tons of guests at Fontana Village resort who forget stuff that we have to mail back to them,” Litz said. That would now require a trek to town every time grandma left or glass or junior left this favorite stuffed animal behind after their stay.
The next closest post office is in Robbinsville or the Nantahala Gorge, a 45-mile trip respectively. Factor in the slow speeds required on the curvy, twisty roads, and a trip to the post office would require a two-hour investment.
The community, just this year, become a bonafide town. The new town is home to only 33 fulltime residents, but that population number is deceptive: about 100,000 people a year visit the resort.
Appalachian Trail woes
The Fontana post office is perhaps most critical, however, to hikers along the Appalachian Trail.
The long-distance hiker traversing the 2,200-mile trail from Georgia to Maine mail themselves care packages, as do friends and family, full of needed supplies.
“Everything from food to extra socks,” Litz said.
The Fontana post office is a key drop point for these care packages.
“In the spring time, we have a room dedicated just to stuff from the hikers,” Litz said. That’s when thru-hikers doing the entire trail are coming through in waves of 30 a day.
Hikers also use the post office to send unneeded equipment back home, such as winter jackets they started the trail with but no longer need. Fontana Dam is just 1.8 miles from the trail.
“It’s very important — Fontana is part of the long-distance hiking experience, and part of the logistics of resupply,” said Laurie Potteiger, an AT thru-hike veteran and information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conference, headquartered in Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
Fontana Dam is the first post office hikers hit after starting the trail in Georgia, once any distance under way, that’s in such close proximity to the trail.
The proposed closure is part of a broader cost savings measures by the U.S. Post Office. Last week the postal service announced it would study whether to close nearly 3,700 local offices and branches because of falling revenues. Facing an $8.3 billion budget deficit this year, closing post offices is one of several proposals the Postal Service has recently considered to cut costs, and one of three that are drop points for Appalachian Trail hikers.
Fontana’s leaders are fighting the proposed closure. They have appealed to U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, for help.
Shuler hopes to stop the closure, spokesman Andrew Whalen said this week.
“We are doing our best to ensure it stays open,” Whalen said Tuesday. “We’re drafting a formal appeal to the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission.”