Shutdown forces parkway closures
With the fall foliage nearing its photogenic peak, this time of
year is one of the popular for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
With the shutdown of the federal government this week, however, visitors will find many of their favorite parkway destinations padlocked.
The U.S. government partially shut down for the first time in 17 years when Congress failed to approve a funding bill in time for the Oct. 1 start date of the federal fiscal year. Up to 1 million federal workers were forced to take unpaid furloughs as a result.
“We have been advised from Blue Ridge Parkway headquarters that the Blue Ridge Parkway, the roadway itself, will remain open through any government shutdown,” Tom Hardy, executive director of the private Blue Ridge Parkway Association, said in an email Monday to parkway area tourism, travel and business organizations.
Steve Stinnitt, Blue Ridge Parkway incident commander for the National Park Service, echoed that statement and said Monday, “The road itself will remain open.”
The Blue Ridge Parkway hosts approximately 70,000 visitors on average each day in October, according to the National Park Service. The shutdown has resulted in the furlough of 195 National Park Service employees at the Blue Ridge Parkway and impacts some 200 concessions employees as well, Stinnett said. Forty-three park service remain on duty to provide law enforcement, security and emergency services along the parkway.
A survey of local Blue Ridge Parkway destinations found a number of them closed to the public. A spokesperson for the Moses Cone Manor and Parkway Craft Center said the manor and public bathrooms at Moses Cone Memorial Park will be closed during the shutdown, but the trails and parking areas would remain open to the public.
A note on the front door of Cone Manor from the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Interior reads, “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.”
At Bass Lake, the public bathrooms, built with money from the private Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, were locked on Tuesday morning. The parking lot at Bass Lake and the walking trails around the lake remain open.
The parking lot of the Julian Price Park picnic area was locked, albeit with no note of explanation.
The office for the Julian Price Park Campground was shuttered with a note of closure similar to that at Cone Manor.
At campground “A” at Julian Price Park on Tuesday, four tents were still pitched near Price Lake. Although the National Park spokesperson at Cone Manor said that remaining park rangers were giving campers a 24-hour notice to find other accommodations, a camper at the campsite said that no rangers had yet come by their sites.
“This is my vacation for the year, and we’re not leaving until we’re told to,” said a camper from Waynesville, who wished to remain anonymous. “I was told we would have 48 hours from the time we were notified to leave. It’s not like they’re providing any service to us. We’re camping.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Stinnitt announced that all campers would have until 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, to vacate the campgrounds.
Also closed to the federal government shutdown is the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitors Center at milepost 305 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with its gift shop and bathrooms.
“We’re fielding a lot of calls, and people are relieved that they can still come and enjoy the fall colors,” Hardy said Tuesday. “Far and away, October is the biggest visitation month of the year (for the Parkway).”
Tourism organizations wasted no time in spreading the word. The N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development issued a press release Monday evening, assuring leaf-lookers that the parkway would remain open in the event of a shutdown. The release urged travelers to visit parkway area small towns and reminded them that the Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, Stone Mountain and Mt. Jefferson state parks remain open.