Posts Tagged ‘Great Smoky Mountains National Park’

National Park Ranger

National Park Ranger

Up to now the public has mostly shrugged its shoulders at the federal cutbacks caused by sequestration. That can partially be attributed to the way in which a variety of agencies weathered what they thought were temporary reductions – “through furloughs and deferral of maintenance and training, with the hope that sequestration would ultimately be reversed.

But that may not happen. And, to be sure, the initial impacts have already been felt in parts of the country, especially at national parks. Over Memorial Day weekend, the Arizona Republic reported drivers sitting in their car for an hour to enter the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park – an abnormally long wait blamed on staff reductions. There were also fewer rangers to protect area parks even after cactuses were vandalized.

Elsewhere, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, campgrounds and visitor centers have closed and ranger-led programs were cancelled. In Glacier National Park, it appeared the sudden loss of $682,000 from its roughly $12.5 budget million could delay plowing Going-to-the-Sun Road. If that were to happen – if the opening of the park’s signature attraction was delayed – the public outcry and tourism dollars lost would be equally substantial.

Instead, the Glacier National Park Conservancy, which raises financial support for various resources and aspects of park operations, donated about $10,000 to help cover plowing costs. That, and salary savings from unanticipated personnel changes, allowed the road to open on schedule.

But what happens next year? Or the year after that? Perhaps the worst part of the reoccurring budget battles in Congress is agencies have no idea how much money they will be allocated. It’s impossible to plan long-term when funding is short-term. If sequestration is permanent then lawmakers need to say as much and their constituents who reap the economic benefits of living near national parks can brace for the impact.

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This photo released by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Wednesday shows the extent of damage a landslide caused to the Newfound Gap Road across the park.

This photo released by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Wednesday shows the extent of damage a landslide caused to the Newfound Gap Road across the park.

While engineers have completed their initial assessment on the blown-out section of the Newfound Gap Road across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they have no timetable yet for when the road will be rebuilt and open for traffic.

The Federal Highways Administration engineers now are in the initial stage of preparation work to reconstruct the 200 linear feet of road washed out by a muddy landslide back on January 16. This first phase of work will include the stabilization of the slide, removal of landslide debris from the work area, and the completion of a path for construction vehicles to access the section of the slide below the roadway.

The work is being coordinated by the FHWA and is expected to begin as early as next week, park officials said.

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As 2010 comes to a close, visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park are keeping pace with 2009 traffic.

Through November, visits to the 500,000-acre park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border were 1.7 percent ahead of year-before visits to date despite a steep November drop at the Gatlinburg park entrance and a year plagued by road construction.

In 2009, there were nearly 9.5 million visitors to the park.

Through November, visits to Deep Creek near Bryson City were up 3.4 percent over last year, Miller said.

The number of visitors at the Cherokee entrance to the park increased by 4.3 percent through November of this year compared with last year, he said. Visits to Cataloochee were down around 3 percent compared with 2009.

Tourism officials in both Cherokee and Bryson City say 2010 is shaping up to be a good year.

Based on room tax numbers, “We have had a very, very good year,” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce.

Cherokee also saw tourism gains during the 2010 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, said Mary Ferguson, director of marketing and promotion for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“It started out a bit slow in October of 2009, and every month except January we saw an increase,” Ferguson said.

Weather problems closed U.S. 441 — the key corridor through the park — for part of the winter.

“Certainly that (U.S.) 441 corridor through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a tremendous impact on business in Cherokee,” Ferguson said.

But Miller said those weather closures probably didn’t have a huge effect on the overall number of park visitors.

In November, overall Smokies visits fell 12.4 percent, the Park Service said. The decline was most dramatic at the Gatlinburg entrance, where traffic was off 25.3 percent. The other two main park entrances were also down — 12.3 percent at Townsend and 2.5 percent at Cherokee.
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