Wednesday, October 9, 2013

This is what the Government Shutdown looks like in the Great Smoky Mtns NP

Today was Day 9 of the government shutdown which has (among various other things) officially closed all 401 units of the National Park System.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just one of many.  However, it is also the most visited national park in the system, attracting over 9 million visitors a year.
So, what does the shutdown look like in the Smokies?  Fair question.

This is the sign that faces you at the closed gate of Clingmans Dome Road.  There were several cars parked on the roadside and families were walking off down the road beyond the gate.  Reflected in the laminated sign are the taillights of visitors who had to turn around.
Newfound Gap Road remains open from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC, which means visitors can drive up and over the mountains.  Scenic overlooks, pull-offs and quiet walkway trailhead parking lots remain open. (This was not the case at the very start of the shutdown; I've read that ALL parking areas had been blocked with traffic cones/barricades.)

              In Newfound Gap parking lot, a portable electronic road sign warns "No Overnight Camping".  The lot was almost completely full.  The leaves are starting to turn, a few patches of bright yellow and some emerging red here and there.

This is the barrier that greets you at the junction of Appalachian Trail and Newfound Gap parking area.
Sign Reads:
"Warning: This Park Area is CLOSED. Emergency Response will be significantly DELAYED beyond this point."
A good many people were checking out the Rockefeller memorial and heading toward the restrooms (which I think were open but I'm not sure).  I could see people walking on the AT.  A guy with day pack and trekking poles was just exiting the trail as we approached; he took a selfie with the warning sign.  He probably went to The Jumpoff.  That's where I'd go.  seethes with jealousy

Chimneys Picnic Area - closed.  Heavily barricaded.

Chimney Tops Trailhead parking area - closed.  Heavily barricaded.

As well as heavily coned all along the roadsides and any potential pull off as you approach and pass the parking lot to prevent people from stopping.  We did however see one car parked up above the loop that I'm sure belonged to somebody getting a rare solo-hike on Chimney Tops. further seething

Alum Cave Bluffs trailhead was similarly barricaded. There were multiple cars parked in the grass along the roadside beyond the barriers on both ends and a few also parked at the next pull out.

Sugarlands Visitor Center/park headquarters is closed and all parking is coned off.
Little River Road, connecting Sugarlands to Townsend, passing Laurel Falls, Elkmont, Metcalf Bottoms and The Sinks along the way, is closed - coned off at the visitor center.
Cades Cove is closed. Tremont is closed. Cosby. Smokemont. Deep Creek.  It just goes on!

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed, gated just at the park boundary.  A handful of cars were parked at the gate, including a govt. service vehicle.  I wonder if Ely Mill is closed? A huge portion of their traffic must come from those exiting the one-way Roaring Fork.

Basically, in this area of the national park, this all means the average tourist can get out and stroll around. Those in the know could still milk a bunch of miles out of this situation, often without actually walking past any barricades.

Having said all of this, it was busy!  Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were both hopping and the traffic in the national park was heavy but not congested.

Newfound Gap parking lot.

Campbell Overlook view. Clearly not nearing peak color yet at this elevation, though there is some color showing on Mt. LeConte, in clouds at far right.

But up on Newfound Gap Road you do drive through some nice pockets of autumn, and the crisp blue sky with fluffy clouds made a fantastic backdrop.

So. Although the park is "closed" you can still drive up and over.
And if you know where to do it, you can still get some hiking in.

This shutdown better get resolved soon, it is certainly interfering with a great many fall plans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog post!