The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most visited national park, will reopen for five days starting tonight (Tuesday night/Wednesday morning) and continuing through Sunday, Gov. Bill Haslam said.
The park has been closed because Congress has failed to pass a spending bill in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. The closure came during the peak fall tourist season.
“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”
The park will reopen at 12 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and stay open until until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Oct. 20, if the shutdown has not ended by then.
The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service. Sevier County has sent $300,500 to NPS to open it for five days, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The state is paying 80 percent of the cost through a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County, with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operations for five days.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, on Tuesday introduced legislation in the Senate to reimburse states within 90 days for all state funds used to reopen national parks while the federal government is shut down. Representatives Phil Roe and John J. Duncan, Jr., both Tennessee Republicans, have introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Alexander praised Tuesday’s announcement by the governor.
“Gov. Haslam’s decision to reopen the Smokies is welcome news for the communities and small businesses that surround our nation’s most-visited national park,” Alexander said. “I thank the governor for his leadership, and will continue working in Congress to make sure the state is reimbursed by the federal government.”
This weekend, Alexander worked with Haslam, local county mayors, and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation to help reopen the park, according to a press release from the senator’s office.
“I voted against shutting down the government, and I’m doing all I can to reopen it—and assuring states that the federal government will reimburse them for funds used to reopen our national treasures is a good step in the right direction,” Alexander said. “For the surrounding communities, the Smokies closing is like a BP oil spill for the Gulf. This is the prime tourist season for the Smokies, when many of the small businesses around the park make most of their money, and I urge Congress to pass this legislation quickly.”
The governor’s office said a Park Service report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Haslam has worked with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who has expressed a willingness to assist financially with the reopening, the press release said.
“I appreciate the cooperation and support of Gov. McCrory and the state of North Carolina,” Haslam said. “Together, we’ve been able to reopen the nation’s most-visited park during a key month for tourism in Tennessee.”
Alexander said the shutdown of the federal government has impacted Tennessee’s other national park facilities in addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.