GSMNP closure hurts some business but helping others

BLOUNT CO., Tenn, (WVLT)- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been closed for almost a week now, more than 270 employees are on furlough and businesses surrounding the park are starting to feel the effects.

Many hotels say people are canceling future reservations, but not all businesses are hurting.

"People are still coming to Townsend, things are going on. No we're not in the park and yes we are open," says Nancy Williams, Marketing Director for the Great Smoky Heritage Center.

While people are getting turned away from the park, it's sending them searching for other things to do.

Pat and Bud Petersen come from Ohio to see the Smokies. They say they come every year, "We've had to make some other plans but, it's okay because there is more than just the park."

Which is good news for places like the Heritage Center, their Annual Wood Carving Festival brought in a record number of people.

But, for locals who only want to use the park, like avid hiker Matt Geer, things have been tough.

"It's a public place, it's for the people," he says.

He's hiked these trails the last 20 years and now that some areas are open in the forest, he's finding makeshift trails that aren't as well maintained.

"Basically you've got your full run right there and you can just pull right off and you've got your trail-head on the roadside."

But the rangers trained to help injured hikers are no longer available if something happens.

Matt is hoping something will change soon, meanwhile businesses are reminding people they're open!

"We have to work a little harder to let people know we're open," says Williams, "We've been sending out news releases and calling people and marketing the website. Letting people know we're open and I think most of the businesses in Townsend are doing the same."

Park rangers say they will not allow any cars and bikes through the barriers but if you're on foot, they're not going to stop you.

All visitor centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, trails and roads are closed except for Newfound Gap, the Spur and the Gatlinburg Bypass.

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