Turned Away: Visitors, residents barred from national park
When Joe and Dolly Parker approached the entrance of the Deep Creek campground Tuesday morning, the sign read “Office Closed.”
“We can’t believe this,” Dolly said.
A retired couple from Key Largo, Fla., the Parkers spend upwards of five months each year traveling and camping around the country. Joe rides his motorcycle, with Dolly following behind in their campervan. Amid of all their stops, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of their favorites.
This time around, they planned to stay in the Smokies outside Bryson City for a week. But as they pulled into Deep Creek, the 70 year olds were turned away by a park ranger due to the federal shutdown.
They were disgruntled — and shocked, since they’d not been following the news from the road.
“We love this area. We love coming to the park, and we spend a lot of money in this town,” Joe added, referring to nearby Bryson City. “It’s really too bad. We’re retired, so we’re pretty flexible with our plans, but I can imagine this shutdown has ruined many vacations.”
Scanning the Deep Creek campground, not a soul is around. Normally this time of year, the Smokies are buzzing with an enormous influx of visitors for the profitable fall tourism season. But instead of packed campgrounds, full of jovial voices, pitched tents and campfires, the sites now are empty, silent, with an eerie sense of lost possibility.
Hitting the Parkway
At one of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway Tuesday, Sam Hicks and his girlfriend Debbie Meredith were taking photos. Hailing from Frankfort, Ind., the couple just started a weeklong trek through the region.
They were aware of the shutdown and weren’t happy about it.
“Well, it kind of sucks, to put it mildly,” Hicks said. “We’re paying these people in Washington D.C. to do a job that needs to get done.”
Meredith, 50, hadn’t been to the Great Smokies since she was a teenager and was looking forward to reacquainting herself with the landscape. Now, they’re aiming for Asheville, where they’ll figure out how to change their plans accordingly.
Pack it up
At the Smokemont campground, just inside the main entrance to the Smokies on U.S. 441, Tom and Suzanne Stress were packing up their gear Tuesday morning and heading back home to Hendersonville. Like Deep Creek, the place was desolate, with a handful of weekend campers rolling out after being given their notice by the rangers to leave.
“We planned around the shutdown because we expected something like this would happen,” Tom said.
They would have stayed longer if the shutdown hadn’t happened. But, it did, and so they’re hitting the road.
“It’s pretty sad. We’ve been talking to some of the rangers, and they’re all disappointed,” Tom said. “We’re disappointed, too. We could camp in spots outside of the park, but we want to camp here, we love the rustic feel of being here in the park.”
As taxpayers, the couple is perturbed that public services they chip in for, including the park, can’t be used.
“We pay for this park, just like our parents and grandparents paid for it,” Tom said. “We’re retired, and this is supposed to be our time now to enjoy this place.”
Asked if the shutdown will put a bitter taste in her mouth about returning to the Great Smokies, Suzanne paused for a moment.
“We love this area — we’ll be back,” she said.