(WBIR - Gatlinburg) Jerry McCarter is just a couple of weeks away from walking his 22-year-old daughter down the wedding aisle.
"That's my little girl Tiff and she's getting married to a great guy named Josh," said McCarter as he pointed to a photo in his living room. "She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where they met, but she grew up here and wanted to get married at home. We spent a couple of weekends driving all around the county to find the perfect place."
Ultimately, a site in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park pulled at the McCarters' heart strings.
"When she [Tiffani] saw the Spence Cabin, that's when I saw her eyes light up. She said, 'This is it. This is where I want to get married.' My wife Kelly has been working non-stop for months planning and getting things ready. It has been a lot of work," said McCarter.
The rustic and recently refurbished Spence Cabin does not have a lot of the amenities found at a typical wedding site, so the McCarters will have to supply and transport nearly everything. Jerry hesitantly opened the door to a side room in his home to reveal the piles of boxes his wife has already organized.
"Be careful, because this is a clutter," joked McCarter as he walked into the room. "There are chandeliers over there on the floor because there's no electric lights in the cabin. We have all of the bottles, vases, dishes, forks, glasses, and everything else to decorate the place boxed up. We have easels and signage made for parking. It all has to go up to Elkmont. We have also paid for the catering, the wedding cake, and all of the invitations have detailed instructions for how to get to Spence Cabin," said McCarter. "The groom's friends and family are coming from California, so their plane tickets have been bought. They've paid for rental cabins in Gatlinburg."
After almost a year of planning and the finish line finally in sight, orange cones now stand in the way of a white wedding. The government shutdown has closed the entrances to the national parks. The McCarter wedding is just one of dozens reserved and scheduled inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the first few weeks of October.
"When they announced the shutdown, my thought was, 'You've got to be kidding.' We put our heart and soul in all of this planning and then they decide to shutdown three weeks before the wedding. Great. I was like, 'Oh, my God.' Tiffani is taking it the best. She's like, 'Oh, it will be fine. They will open back up.' Personally, I am not getting much sleep," said McCarter.
The importance of getting married at the Spence Cabin goes deeper than it merely being a pretty place. If you peel back the layers of the McCarter family photo album, you see in clear black and white why the national park is so close to their hearts. The hardwoods of the Great Smoky Mountains are where you will find the McCarter's roots.
"This picture is Tiffani's great-grandfather and his brother pulling a sled of trees out for the Little River Lumber Company. I have a picture of his pay stub here. The Little River Lumber Company owned the Spence Cabin where Tiffani is getting married."
The McCarter connection to the region goes far beyond great-grandfathers working for lumber companies. The origins of Gatlinburg as a frontier settlement can be traced to McCarter's ancestors. Online genealogy records show Jerry McCarter is a direct descendant of James McCarter, the son-in-law who accompanied his wife Rebecca Ogle's family to the area and became the first permanent European settlers of what is now Gatlinburg. The McCarters have lived and worked in the area ever since.
"With all of the family connections and Tiffani growing up living next to and loving the park, the Spence Cabin was just the perfect fit. This is our home," said McCarter.
Now the McCarters scramble for a backup plan in case the shutdown lingers beyond the wedding date. Jerry says he has managed to secure a second location with the help of friends. He also says the shutdown's impact on the wedding is relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things. However, he believes it exemplifies an overall lack of consideration by those responsible for the political gridlock and wonders if lawmakers truly understand the shutdown's impact on real people.
"The shutdown makes no sense and the members of the House are still getting their paychecks. They don't care if those plane tickets are bought and paid for by my future son-in-law's family. They don't care that there are park rangers out of work. They don't care that this is impacting people from all over the country who come to Gatlinburg to visit the park for the fall colors and hurting tourism here. All they care about is what they are fixated and focused on," said McCarter. "I am lucky. In a nutshell, it is just a wedding for me. I still have a job. I'm thinking about the people who work in the park who depend on their weekly pay to live and scrape by."
McCarter says he remains hopeful the wedding will still take place at Spence Cabin. Wherever it occurs, he says it will be a blessing for his daughter and their entire family.
"My little girl is getting married and that is pretty special. It really is."