East Tennessee may soon get some good news about the still-closed Great Smoky Mountain National Park. State lawmakers hope to have the park reopened sometime this week, even if the partial government shutdown continues.
Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe co-sponsored a bipartisan bill which ensures any state that reopens a national park during the shutdown will be reimbursed by the federal government for those operating costs.
"It would be just a situation of replacing the money, where it comes from," said Representative Roe by phone Monday afternoon. "Whether it comes from the counties – Blount and Sevier have offered to do that – or, if Governor Haslam and the state do it."
The governor is very interested in that idea, and was already discussing the idea late last week. Those plans may have happened sooner, if not for bank hours and the holiday weekend.
"I think it's important to see if we can work something out with them," Governor Haslam said from Clarksville Monday. "We'll resume those conversations first thing in the morning [Tuesday] with the goal of, hopefully, being open by the weekend --if not before."
Haslam's office says it costs about $60,000 per day to operate GSMNP. Roe said when the park reopens, he believes full staff will return to work.
Despite the park closure, a number of people have tested the limited NPS staff. Some have gotten caught.
Chief Ranger Clay Jordan says park officials have issued about half a dozen violations for vehicles bypassing barricades blocking the park entrances. Park officials have responded to three medical rescues on closed trail systems since the shutdown started.
According to park officials, it averages about 1.1 million visitors in October alone. Haslam said talks about reopening the park will resume this week.