You've heard the saying: "If you want something done, do it yourself."
With visitor services and amenities nowhere to be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park following a shutdown in Washington, D.C., one man from Sevierville decided to take that old saying to heart.
Steve Ellis, who's every bit the expert of Smokies and has traveled far and wide across the many nooks and crannies within the park, decided to put his professional knowledge and love for the mountains to good use this weekend with the help of his hiking friend, Susan.
Ellis stood outside the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the entrance of the park to provide guidance services that were sorely missing to tourists over the weekend after hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including most of those who keep the GSMNP running, were put on furlough when the federal government shut down at midnight Friday.
"I noticed a lot of people were wandering around, trying to figure things out. They hadn't followed the news and weren't sure what this meant. I stood around trying to answer some questions for a few minutes," Ellis said. "So I directed them to the trails that normally the volunteer staff and and the rangers, who do an excellent job... they normally direct them to these trails, and since I know these trails very well I was very comfortable in doing that."
The park decided it wasn't feasible to close the park off, so it kept the gates open but with a complete lack of amenities -- including guidance, maintenance and limited emergency response.
With no one really manning the park, Ellis said he's been doing what he can to provide information to travelers from as far as Thailand about trails and things they can do in the park.
"Honestly, I did this because I felt sorry for the people that show up here. I feel sorry that people come all the way here to see the Smokies," Ellis said. "This may be the one trip they take all year, or the next two years and then they get here and they're like 'Oh... well...' So if I can answer a few questions and they can go back with a happier time in their hearts, that's a great thing for me."
Ellis even took time out a special day Sunday to do this: his wife's birthday. He said she's been recovering from surgery, so he took turns with Susan to help visitors so he could go home periodically to help her recover.
Ellis said he'd continue to show up until the shutdown is resolved and services return to the park. Until then, he's asking for help from anyone out there that loves the Smokies in hopes of providing essential amenities during the shutdown such as trash pick-up, restrooms and food services.
"I just want to help people and keep the park functioning. We as a citizen army can come out here and pick things up... we don't have to let it 'go to pot,' to speak. I think it's up to the citizens of our country to claim our park and keep it running and nice."
Ellis said he's had around a half-dozen people or so step up to help volunteer. He's hoping to gather even more people to help out.
If you'd like to join the 'citizen army' to help both travelers and the Smokies, Ellis said to drop him a line at his phone at (865) 363-4663 or message him on Facebook through the post below.