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Townsend prepares for possible Smokies cutbacks

11:30 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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Some towns near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are bracing for possible government cutbacks that could affect the number of visitors driving through their streets.

"People from all different countries come here," said Brandon Gipe, a worker at the Riverstone Restaurant in Townsend who heard about the proposed congressional planned cutbacks, called "sequester."

"Basically most of our business comes from tourism and comes from the park," he added.

The proposal would mean reduced hours for visitors centers and possibly the closure of some camping, hiking and recreational areas because of staff cut backs. All totaled, nationally, there would be $130 million in cuts from National Park Service's $2.6 billion budget. The Smokies would see $944,000 in cuts.

Townsend Vice Mayor Ron Palewski heard about the sequester, and he said it would come at a growing time for the area.

"There has been an influx visitors in the past year, coming into Townsend," he said.

However, park officials said these plans are not set in stone at this time.

"The scenarios that we come up with and the possibilities that we come determined in the plan are just a scenario. It's a planning process, nothing is final," said GSMNP spokesperson Molly Schroer.

She said there is no word on when or if Washington will act on this proposed sequester.

"We try to affect the visitors in at least amount of areas as possible. That means closing down picnic areas in the least used areas," Schroer added.

Town officials say they're going to look at the future optimistically.

"It may offset the visitors -- the added visitors. But you don't know, it's hard to tell," said Palewski.

However, some workers say otherwise.

"It's going to hurt the people who work because if we don't have any business after nightfall, then we don't need to be here," added Gipe.

The cuts are scheduled to take effect in March, but would only kick in if the president and Congress can't agree on a spending plan.

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