The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will remain partially open if an expected government shutdown happens at midnight. That means the main roads and trails will be accessible, but many facilities, bathrooms, and other services will be closed. There will also not be any trash collection.
President Trump and the Senate are in a standoff over funding for a wall on the Mexican border. Friday morning the president tweeted, "If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last a very long time."
A skeleton crew of essential personnel will remain in the Smokies during the shutdown. The park will also maintain snow removal teams to keep Newfound Gap Road, the Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and the road to the Top of the World community open.
Newfound Gap Road is closed as of Friday evening due to snow and ice at the higher elevations. Again, when weather improves and snow can be removed, the gates will be reopened for Newfound Gap Road during the expected shutdown. However, any other roads that are closed during the shutdown due to weather will remain closed until the shutdown ends.
The non-profit Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) has entered into a deal to fund the Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove visitor center operations and associated restroom facilities through Tuesday, January 1st. The GSMA operates bookstores in the visitor centers that help fund the group's mission.
“We appreciate the ongoing support offered by those that visit, love, and care for Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “During this time period when there are no visitor services, it is imperative that people practice Leave No Trace principals to help us protect park resources over the duration of the shutdown.”
The park website will remain accessible, but it will not be updated with any current information. Park social media accounts will be suspended during the shutdown period
Don Barger, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), says this is one of the worst times of year to shut down the Smokies.
"The week between Christmas and New Year's is one of the busiest weeks of the year for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in line with the October leaf season. There are that many people who come to the national park during the week," said Barger. "It is irresponsible to shut down the national parks. What we hear about is a partial shutdown, but you can't really partially keep a park open."
Barger said the parks are already underfunded and understaffed. A shutdown puts the parks and visitors at greater risk.
"Your bathrooms are closed. Trash piles up. Bears are still active this time of year and they're still out, so there are safety issues," said Barger. "The basic message to people is if you do go into a park while the government is shut down, you're on your own. If you go out on a trail and you get injured, I really hope enough people will be around to come and help you."
Nationwide, Barger said national parks contribute around $18 million a day during December to local economies.
"It's not a small thing for them to be shut down. And the longer that goes on, the more magnified that effect is going to be," said Barger.
The shutdown impacts several NPS properties in East Tennessee beyond the Great Smoky Mountains. The shutdown will also affect government resources and services at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Obed Wild and Scenic River and the Appalachian Trail.