GSMNP visitors seek alternatives during shutdown

(WBIR-Knoxville) Visitors coming to see the Great Smoky Mountains are forced to find other options due to the government shutdown.

With the national park closed, many of them are choosing alternatives in Knoxville.

Sarah Brobst with Ijams Nature Center said there has been an increase of visitors since the shutdown.

"There was at least three groups this morning that had made trips and they were just weaving in and out on vacation. And they had planned to go to the Smokies but then came here because we were the next closest thing to the Smokies," Brobst said.

Ijams Nature Center holds 300 acres of protected wildlife habitat, with 10 miles of trails.There is an additional 42 miles through Knoxville's Urban Wilderness.

"You can find the amateur hikes where your smooth and steady or you can really do some rough terrain," Brobst said.

Cyclist Joe Winter of Knoxville included, "It's kind of been in the public eye for awhile now so I think that's part of it and it's a viable option."

Those headed to the Smokies are not just interested in the trails. This time of year is usually slow for James White's Fort. But since the government shutdown, attendance has increased at least 60%, compared to last year at this time.

"The first day the shutdown occurred, we had an influx of people who came here because they wanted the experience of Cade's Cove and the settlement of the park but they couldn't get it here so they came to us," said Robert McGinnis, curator for James White's Fort.

McGinnis said two park rangers visited the fort on Thursday.

"They spent about close to two hours going through our exhibits and learning what we have to offer, that they can take back and maybe send visitors to us," McGinnis said.

James White's Fort is closed this Saturday, due to game day, but will be back open on Monday.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton is reminding people that state parks are still open. Calabrese-Benton said they have seen an increase in visitors across the board since the shutdown.


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