October 1-16, 2013 – I was in the midst of my long awaited stay at Cades Cove Campground when the government decided to put its own political interests ahead of the people. (See Cades Cove Confined for that story.
When I was kicked out of the campground, I returned to my home at Tremont Outdoor Resort, and a couple of days later, the Mayor of Townsend, Ed Mitchell, held a press conference right outside of that entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At that point, he had sent an offer to the Secretary of the Interior asking for Blount County to open and maintain the park roads during the shutdown, allowing visitors to enjoy the peak Fall season during October. With 28% of Blount County within the National Park, it is this season that generates the bulk of income and gets the local businesses through the winter, and they were already feeling the great impact of their income. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of tourists who planned trips to the area, only to be turned away from the public lands their tax dollars pay for.
And it wasn’t only the tourists who were affected, but residents living in the Foothills area who no longer had easy access to their homes. Parents were notified by the school district that since school buses could no longer use the Foothills Parkway (part of the National Park), they had to get their kids to/from school themselves using alternate, “white knuckle” routes. Relatives of deceased loved ones buried within the historic cemeteries within the National Park were also barred from visiting or maintaining their relatives’ gravesites. Interesting news report about that: “All About Power and Leverage.”
Mayor Mitchell’s comment that I most agreed with was, “It’s a shame that people up there that we’ve elected can’t cross the aisle and get along well enough that they’re going to let something like this impact so many people’s lives around here.” And in another interview, “That’s a slap in the face to the American people. They should have never, ever let this happen. It’s almost like they are pushing to see how far they can push before the American people say enough is enough.”
I had certainly had enough, so when I heard about a local artist organizing a protest of the park’s closing, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help organize and publicize the event. On October 12, a group of us gathered outside Gatlinburg and it was quite a day! See my Protest page about that.
We were all happy when park reopened on October 16, but I still couldn’t help but be heartbroken for the many families and businesses who were impacted in ways they could never be compensated for.
Links for more info:
The Costs of the Government Shutdown – ABC News 10/17/13
Sleaziest Things Congress Has Done During the Shutdown – Huffington Post 10/15/13
Top Claims About the Federal Government Shutdown – Politifact 10/4/13
Furloughed at 92 – The Daily Beast 10/11/13
Smokies Hit Hardest by Government Shutdown – Daily Times 3/5/14