Blount leaders ask to reopen Smokies on their own

Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell says operating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park using local deputies and their highway department employees would cost them-- but it's nothing compared to what they stand to lose.

Mitchell and other local officials and tourism leaders held a news conference Friday, announcing that's exactly what he communicated to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter sent Thursday. He says he's still waiting on a response.

Mitchell says he isn't sure exactly how much the idea could cost, but the sheriff is in support of the idea. Deputies already patrol the foothills and the volunteer rescue squad act as the area's emergency responders, and Mitchell says he would like to see them all come together to reopen the Smokies during the park's second busiest month. In the letter, he also pitched the possibility of allowing Blount County to contract with the National Park Service to pay for the federally employed rangers to return to their posts.

As the shutdown drags on, Blount Partnership Director of Tourism Tami Vater says the county stands to lose millions. In 2012, she said the county had a $312 million economic impact, which was a $7 million increase over 2011. She says they've been networking with local businesses and communicating with potential visitors about what remains open.

Horseback riding, rafting, fishing, and several local festivals are recreation options still available to tourists, and Vader says they're hoping people will use county roads that are accessible regardless of Washington's status to enjoy one of the Smokies most impressive times of year.


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