Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway Feeling Effects of Sequestration

By Keith Giles, WFSC & WNCC, Franklin


Some campgrounds and visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway may not open this year due to federal budget cuts.

The National Park Service is among the area that got hit with the automatic spending cuts that began to take effect this month. Don Barger with the National Parks Conservation Association says each park will see different impacts.

“They have 14 visitor contact centers up and down the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, that runs from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, all the way down to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, and so as a result, half of those visitor centers are going to have to be closed during this tourism season.”

Over 20 seasonal ranger positions have been cut from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the sequester means three campgrounds, two picnic areas and one horse camp will be closed. The move is expected to impact 54,000 visitors.

Facilities to remain closed in 2013 include: the Look Rock Campground and Picnic Area and the Abrams Creek Campground in Tennessee; the Balsam Mountain Campground and Picnic Area (including the associated Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads) and the Tow String Horse Camp in North Carolina.

“We regret this will cause inconvenience to park visitors,” stated Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, “especially those who have enjoyed these more remote areas of the Smokies year after year. We have focused our workforce to maximize the utilization of facilities throughout the remainder of the park in order to serve and provide recreational opportunities for our millions of park visitors.”

Overall, the National Park system is said to support 250,000 jobs in the country, with an annual economic impact of 30-billion dollars.

“When paying for staff and fixed costs take up about 90 percent of your budget, and you get a cut of 9 percent in your spending authority for the next six months, you don’t have a lot of choices,” Barger said.

On Thursday, a group of U.S. Representatives urged Speaker John Boehner to bring a bill to repeal the sequester to the House floor for a vote.