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VOL. 37 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 27, 2013

Smokies among parks closed due to federal shutdown

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited, is among the more than 400 parks across the country that were closed Tuesday as a result of the federal government's partial shutdown.

Smokies spokeswoman Molly Schroer said the shutdown includes closure of all visitors' centers and trails. The park, which has 820 campground sites in East Tennessee, has also canceled numerous school field trips and at least 28 weddings scheduled for the first two weeks of this month.

Schroer said 326 employees were sent home, but 47 remain, including law enforcement rangers, emergency dispatchers and a small maintenance crew.

"They will be here to make sure the park is safe," she said.

Park officials have given campers until 6 p.m. on Thursday to leave the park.

Brandon Hyde of Andrews, N.C., was in the Cades Cove Campground with his wife and their two children.

Hyde told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he was particularly disappointed that the loop to drive around Cades Cove would be closed.

"That's not right," he said of one of the park's more popular spots. "A lot of people come here to ride the loop and see the animals. They need to leave the loop open."

Kayla Buffkin is an assistant manager at a grocery store in Townsend. She said the park shutdown would significantly hurt businesses in the town that depend on tourism, especially during the fall.

"Everyone comes up here for the leaves and to see Cades Cove," Buffkin said. "Nobody wants to come to the mountains and not get to see the mountains. I hope they get this worked out soon."

The shutdown comes during one of the park's busiest months. The park averages about 1.1 million visitors in October, according to park officials. For the first five months of this year, it recorded just more than 2,506,000 visitors.

Also Tuesday, the Tennessee governor's office provided information about how the shutdown would affect state agencies. Eleven departments would face some impact, and another would be significantly impacted, if the shutdown lasts longer than 10 days.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters they day before the shutdown that he was unhappy that it had gotten to this point.

"I'm one of those who believes the federal government has to quit spending way more than it's bringing in, but this is not the way to do that," he said.

The agency likely to be hit the hardest is the Department of Human Services, which handles government assistance programs, such as food stamps. Federal funding for the programs could run out in 10 weeks if the shutdown lasts too long.

Ashley Robertson, a single mother with three children, said she would have a tough time without the government assistance.

"I count on my government assistance ... to feed my kids because I make only so much," said Robertson, a teller at a Nashville bank.

"I have re nt, a car note. It will be an ongoing struggle to provide food as well as other essentials for my kids. It will just be a difficult situation."

Other parts of the state were taking steps to address the shutdown.

In West Tennessee, an order was issued that in the event of a lapse in federal funds the Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee would stay proceedings in all civil cases in which the U.S. attorney is counsel until funding is restored.

Jim Pogue, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis, said about a dozen people who work in the personnel office were not working Tuesday due to funding issues. He said other office operations will continue as usual until Oct. 11.

After that, it's not clear what other effects will be felt.

"There's a lot of anxiety, uncertainty in the workforce," Pogue said.