To the Editor:
If Congress fails to reach a federal budget resolution by midnight, September 30, 2015, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hundreds of other National Park Service sites in America will close to the public indefinitely.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosts over 35,000 visitors on average each DAY in October. Nationally, more than 715,000 visitors a day frequent the National Park System.
- Nationwide the National Park Service stands to lose approximately $500,000* per DAY in revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities, such as cave tours, boat rides and camping.
- Park gateway communities like Gatlinburg, TN, Cherokee, NC, Townsend, TN, Jackson, WY, West Yellowstone, MT, and others across the country collect about $76 million per DAY in total sales from visitor spending. This much-needed revenue is lost during a government shutdown.
In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an estimated 350 federal employees would be furloughed because of a shutdown, along with 60 concessions employees and 45 Great Smoky Mountains Association employees. About 47 National Park Service employees would remain on duty, providing security and emergency services.
In the national park and the surrounding gateway communities, October is the most important month for both visitation to the region and business activity. There’s no making it back later on. Fall colors only happen once a year; once they’re gone, it’s all over. October Business activity often provides the critical financial resources for businesses and residents to make it through until the next season.
Nationwide a shutdown would force the furloughs of more than 20,000 National Park Service employees; approximately 3,000 employees would remain on duty to ensure essential health, safety, and security functions at parks and facilities.
About 12,000 park concessions employees – the workers who staff the hotels, restaurants, and riding stables in the parks – would also be adversely affected. Nonprofit park partner organizations, including Friends groups and cooperating associations like Great Smoky Mountains Association, would lay off an estimated 600-1,000 employees, depending on the length of the shutdown. A closure would impact visitor centers and field institutes like Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, as well.
America’s public lands drive billions of tourism dollars into local economies, and in return these lands rely on dedicated nonprofit partners to provide educational programs, operate interpretive sales outlets, manage volunteers and cultivate private funding. A government shutdown would strip hundreds of private sector nonprofit employees of their paychecks as citizens are turned away from the special places they rightfully own.
I urge everyone who wishes our national parks to remain open to the public, please contact your state and federal elected officials and let them know how you feel about the potential for our national parks to close.
Great Smoky Mountains Association
*Statistics from National Park Service news release on impacts of the 2013 partial government shutdown.