The Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened Wednesday morning, and visitors are already crowding Cades Cove and other favorite areas to see the fall leaves and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
State and local officials have worked out an agreement that will reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for five days despite the federal government shutdown.
"The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year," Haslam said. "I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week."
The park will reopen with normal operations at midnight on Wednesday, October 16. The agreement currently runs through Sunday, October 20 at 11:59 pm.
Smokies spokesperson Dana Soehn says Cades Cove should be open by sunrise. All other closed areas should start opening by 8:00 am, and should all be open by noon.
"We are grateful that our Blount and Sevier county neighbors and the states of Tennessee and North Carolina have offered to support reopening the park," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "We are anxious to welcome the public back into the park to enjoy the changing fall colors."
It costs $60,100 to operate the park per day, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
Sevier County has sent $300,500 to NPS to fund the opening. The state is paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County. Sevier and Blount counties are kicking in $60,100 and the State of North Carolina is contributing $75,000 to fully fund operation of the park for five days. North Carolina's funding comes from tourism advertising dollars.
October is the busiest time of the year for the Smokies, with 9.6 million visitors having an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has expressed a willingness to assist financially with the reopening.
"I appreciate the cooperation and support of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina," Haslam said. "Together, we've been able to reopen the nation's most-visited park during a key month for tourism in Tennessee."
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released this statement:
"Governor Haslam's decision to reopen the Smokies is welcome news for the communities and small businesses that surround our nation's most-visited national park. I thank the governor for his leadership, and will continue working in Congress to make sure the state is reimbursed by the federal government."
Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) released the following statement:
"I am proud to see that the state of Tennessee will reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I commend Governor Haslam, Governor McCrory, Mayor Waters, Mayor Mitchell and all the local officials that rolled up their sleeves and came together to get this done. Their leadership has been critical during this time.
"Tonight the House will vote on legislation to end the government shutdown and protect the full faith and credit of the United States. This important bill includes a provision to ensure that states like Tennessee that have rallied to fund the National Parks in their area will be reimbursed by the Federal Government. It is not fair to make the states pay for the failures of Washington."
State pays to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 5 days during government shutdown
An effort is underway that could get the Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened as early as Wednesday.
Last week, the federal government agreed that states could pay to reopen their national parks. Governor Bill Haslam has said it would take $60,000 dollars a day to operate the Smokies, and it appears federal, state, and local officials are working hard to make that happen.
State Senator Doug Overbey, who represents Blount and Sevier County, told 10News that Tennessee and North Carolina would split that $60,000 dollars a day to reopen the Smokies. He said Governor Haslam informed him that he would get a call as soon as the deal was done.
Also waiting for the phone call are officials at the national park, and 279 furloughed workers who are likely anxious to get back to work.
Park Spokesperson Dana Soehn says if officials get the word that a deal has been struck on Tuesday, those workers would be called back on Wednesday, and the park would likely reopen by noon. Workers would remove all barricades, open gates, and reopen campgrounds and facilities.
"The problems we'll probably encounter are a few hiccups for the reservations for the campgrounds, but if people have existing reservations with Recreation.Gov with our campgrounds and in the back country, those will be honored," she said.
There may be an issue with the reservation system for campgrounds and the backcountry. Existing reservations will be honored, but no new reservations can be made.
It's not clear how long the park could remain open if the federal government shutdown continues. Soehn believes the current deal would fund the park for five days. She was not aware of North Carolina's part in the reopening of the park.
If the states pay to reopen the parks, they should be reimbursed by the federal government. Senator Lamar Alexander introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require the states to be paid back within 90 days. Representatives Phil Roe and John J. Duncan, Jr. have introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives
The shutdown has also affected Tennessee's other national park facilities, including Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. Governor Haslam's office says so far, they are only discussing the reopening of the Smokies.
Gatlinburg businesses said they were excited by the park's re-opening too. Old Dad's General Store in downtown Gatlinburg said business had gone down 40 percent since the park's closure.
"We sell about 40 to 50 pounds of turkey a week it seems during this month and we've slowed down to about 15 pounds," Old Dad's owner Shannon Patterson said.
Eric Gebhart, a photographer with New Beginnings Photography, said he was excited by the park's re-opening too. He said it will open his business to more photography opportunities.
"I'll be able to call everybody this weekend and tell them we'll be able to do their ceremony in the spot they had scheduled it for," Gebhart.