Protest planned to reopen the Smokies

(WBIR - Great Smoky Mountains National Park) As the shutdown now hits double digit days, a Gatlinburg man said enough is enough, and wants a victim of the closures open again.

But Jeremiah Spelas said the protest he is organizing for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is more than just for the businesses and visitors who want it in operation again.

"I work with people and I met people here in Tennessee and they told me their story -- which is that graves of their families are in the park and they're promised to always have access there," said Spelas. "However, with the park closed, that's not possible."

Many people were laid to rest in the Smokies before the U.S. Park Service took over the land in the 1930's, and transformed it to the park today.

Those that do still want to visit loved one's gravesites do risk fines, park officials told 10News.

"It does make me angry," said Gatlinburg native Rob Sweat, who has loved ones in the park. "They're paying park rangers to keep people out. If they're going to pay them, you should pay them to let people in. Seems to show a lack of common sense."

While Spelas said the protest also is to raise a voice for businesses nearby that they say are hurting from the shutdown, it's the personal connections to this land that makes this protest so important to him.

"I don't expect this protest to open up the parks. But the very least, practice our freedom of speech and because of a everything creating a ripple, maybe get other parks to do the same," Spelas added.

The protest is scheduled for October 12 at 10:00 a.m. at the sign announcing the entrance to the park on Newfound Gap Road.


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