(WBIR - Tellico Plains) The beautiful open road of the Cherohala Skyway that winds through the Cherokee National Forest drives tourism in Monroe County. Although the federal government is shut down, the Cherohala Skyway remains an open road.
"We've had a lot of people call wanting to know if the Cherohala Skyway is closed and if the visitor center is closed," said Julie Morgan, director of tourism in Monroe County. "Cherohala is a state road and the Cherohala Visitor Center is a county facility. The Cherohala Skyway is still open and will remain open."
As for the Cherokee National Forest, most of its employees are on furlough and the gates to the campgrounds are locked. That is a particularly painful position for popular campsites such as Indian Boundary where 90 spots typically remain full throughout the month of October. The slots are reserved weeks in advance. Tuesday all campers at Indian Boundary were forced to leave due to the federal government shutdown.
The campground situation is very similar to the impact on the National Parks. But unlike the Great Smoky Mountains where almost all visitor access is denied and overlooks are blocked on any open roads, the National Forest remains almost entirely accessible to visitors for recreation. People can still hike, hunt, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors in the National Forest. The overlooks along the Cherohala Skyway are also open.
"The facilities along those areas are closed, but that is to be expected because the government is shut down. But people can sight-see at the waterfalls and drive the Cherohala Skyway. That will remain accessible with absolutely no problems," said Morgan.
Workers at the popular Tellico Beach Drive-In restaurant along the Cherohala Skyway told 10News the impact of the campground closure has already eaten into their business. Morgan is hopeful the negative economic impact will not be as severe in Monroe County if people realize the shutdown has not completely closed the National Forest or any of the Cherohala Skyway. There is also a chance the visitors completely locked out of the Great Smoky Mountains may decide to head south and explore the great outdoors in Monroe County.
"Obviously the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the country. I think it depends on what type of visitor you're talking about, but if they are more localized and within a day trip of the Smokies then I could see them spilling over [into Cherokee National Forest]. I don't think that would be impossible," said Morgan.
Law enforcement continue to monitor the Cherokee National Forest during the government shutdown.