Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2013 – I had eagerly awaited my stay here with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, having made reservations far in advance so I could be here during the peak Fall season and see the magnificent display of the colored trees, something this Southern Gal had never taken for granted. I arrived on September 29th and was due to leave on October 3, the maximum stay I could get at the time. On October 1, I heard the news that the government had shut down and the national parks and campgrounds were being closed. Thankfully, out of consideration for those who couldn’t just pack up and leave on a moment’s notice, they didn’t make us pull out on that day, so I was able to stay for my entire planned time anyway. Although I felt terrible for the people whose long-planned-for stays were cancelled, I couldn’t help feel blessed to get to be here for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Here I am in Site B-69, a really good, spacious one just across the road from the trail that leads to the river. Even though this site is listed for a 33 footer, my 35′ fit in perfectly and I even had room to park my car in front.
As campers cleared out, the Rangers came by and warned us that the animals were “reclaiming” the campground. It was definitely true that I saw more bears there the last two days than I had in dozens of visits to the loop before.
This bear climbing the tree was in the C Section, where I definitely noticed there were more bears in general, due to it having more hickory trees, apparently one of their favorite treats.
On my last day, I decided to see what the trail to the river was like across from my site, and had a little-too-close-for-comfort encounter with a bear who had been hidden right where I had been standing. Story and pics of this in my Facebook album (public so you don’t need an account to view them).
When I went back once the campground was open again, I had another close encounter when I had parked my car to look around and saw a bear being shooed away by park personnel. The shaking of my camera showed when I got a bit nervous!
Not only bears, but the deer were out in abundance, too. I felt particularly lucky to witness this scene when a couple of bucks were butting heads and a couple of doe ran by which changed the bucks’ direction quickly.
I was sad to leave the campground, but still thrilled that I had the chance to stay there and was the last camper out. I bought this t-shirt in commemoration that says “Trapped in Paradise with no plan to escape.”
But the fact that the government closing had impacted so many people was still heartbreaking. I particularly remember one gentlemen who was checking out on the day the campground was closed to new arrivals (Oct. 1). I asked why he didn’t stay until the 3rd anyway. But we had been told that we couldn’t leave the campground itself even in tow car, and if we did, we wouldn’t be allowed to return since the campground (and Cades Cove Loop) was officially closed. So he replied, “Darling, my wife would be more than happy sitting around the campfire reading books. But I was a POW in Vietnam and no one will ever confine me again!” Brought tears to both our eyes as we hugged goodbye. I heard of others who had to leave because they couldn’t get into town for needed meds or other supplies.
I talked to so many people with equally sad tales of long-planned-for family reunions and weddings here, etc., the concessions workers who were without a paycheck until who knows when, not to mention the food in the store that was going to spoil. The cost of this government debacle was incalculable in many ways.
But the generous human spirit abounded and as people left the campground earlier than they had to, they went around handing out food, firewood and all kind of stuff to us “confined” ones who elected to stay. I had already completely stocked up before I arrived, so I didn’t need anything more than I already had. But I surely made life-long friends as we all bonded together through this once-in-a-lifetime experience!