Government Shutdown in the Smokies

Day Three of the 2018 Government Shutdown!

On Saturday I went to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site to see how the government shutdown was affecting the national parks.

The next day, I drove to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I chose that area because it’s a little out of the way without a visitor center. The Smokies store is in Bryson City.

No signs that the park was officially closed.

Juney Whank falls

I walked the three-waterfall loop – Juney Whank, Tom Branch (see the picture on top) and Indian Creek Falls, a classic 5.5-mile loop. When I started at about 11 am, a very-prepared fisherman was heading to Deep Creek. A few people were walking slowly toward Deep Creek. Nothing unusual.

On Deep Creek Trail, I met a group of guys from Raleigh, walking out of a weekend backpack.

“We started on Friday and got in under the wire,” one said about getting to their campsite.

No one else was on the trail until I reached Sunkota  Ridge junction, the high point on the loop trail. Here, a couple from Louisiana were enjoying a cup of coffee from their thermos and a smoke.

Swain County Heritage Museum

They were navigating from their AllTrails app and didn’t feel they needed any instructions. Instead they asked about good restaurants in Bryson City and Cherokee, where they were staying in a cabin. Still I encouraged them to visit the Smokies Store in Bryson City inside the Swain County Heritage Museum.

But there’s always something new!

Trail use counter


On both the Deep Creek and the Indian Creek Trails, the park had installed a trail counter. The sign was very adamant; this is not a camera. Still I waved to it.

Back at the trailhead, someone told me that the only sign of a shutdown was the same sign that I had seen at Carl Sandburg on a bathroom building.

The bathroom was closed and the sign wasn’t very obvious. Most people who walk the three-falls loop are locals, again treating the national park as a local park. Still, I didn’t see any problems, maybe because there’s little ranger presence on this section.

I drove to the Lakeview Drive, better known as the Road to Nowhere. The  road was open. My curiosity was satisfied.

Smokies stuff

My last stop was the Smokies Store, where I bought Smokies swag for my upcoming trip.

When I was working on my Smokies 900M, I calculated that there were sixteen entrances into the Smokies. Some were very small; others were on private land, but the number was correct. It’s obvious that the staff can’t put signs on all these entrances. But, still, Deep Creek is the second most used entrance in North Carolina. I was expecting more of a indication of the government shut-down.

PS When I got home, I headed to Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Center was open. However the parkway was closed at the first barrier, though it wasn’t clear if that was because of the shutdown or ice in the tunnels.

Government Shutdown at Carl Sandburg National Historic Site

Well, it’s happened!

Our U.S. Government has shut down, as of midnight last night. So, today, on a weekend, I was curious to see what it meant for our local national parks. I drove down to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, ready to walk all five miles of trail. I chose this site because it’s the easiest to close of the park units close to me.

Carl Sandburg home site is only open from 9 am to 5 pm normally. Unlike larger parks, there’s a gate which can be closed, but it wasn’t.  I can only assume that the rangers didn’t close it last night, in preparation for today. Most visitors use it as their local park to walk, talk and exercise their dogs.

When I got to the Flat Rock, NC site, I was amazed to see that almost all the parking spaces were taken. As soon as I left the parking site and got on the paved trail to the house, I saw this yellow sign:

Government Shutdown

The sign tells visitors that there are no NPS staff members and they’re on their own. In  my wanderings, I saw four of these signs.

The bathrooms were closed, as advertised. So was the bookstore. The house is being renovated, so was going to be closed anyway.

I walked to the top of Big Glassy Mountain on an icy trail. I guess if someone slipped and couldn’t walk out, they would have to alert the county EMTs. At the top, I only saw one group of walkers. The trail is short but steep. See the picture on top.

CARL goat barn

What about the goats?

I knew that they were being taken care of and fed. A car was parked at the goat barn, which I assumed belonged to a volunteer.

The sign on the gate said “Come on in” but the gate was locked tightly. Too bad since several children congregated at the fence.

You can’t see the goats but they’re in front of the barn, hugging the wall. Usually you can go in and pet them.

My last trail took me around the lake.


It’s the easiest trail and therefore had the most people. Eavesdropping on conversations from groups walking the trail, I couldn’t discern any bitterness about the shut-down.

Other than the closed restrooms, the shutdown probably didn’t affect most visitors to the Carl Sandburg house. But the National Park Service doesn’t just protect and preserve; it interprets as well, so that you know why this site is important. And that’s what was missing today.

As I headed for my car, Rob Moore, a reporter at the Hendersonville Times-News, came to see  the situation. I told him about the four yellow signs, thereby saving him a walk through the park.

Elections have consequences. The government shutdown is one of them.

What’s happening at your park?

Parks and Protests

Today, one day from another government shut down and therefore national park shutdown, I read this from USA Today.

Nine of the 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned in protest this week, saying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ignored pleas for a meeting and has “set aside” protection of the nation’s natural treasures.

Parks of the Southeast

Board chairman Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said in a resignation letter to Zinke that the group has been waiting for a year to meet and “continue the partnership” between the board and Interior officials.

“Our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” the letter says. “I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”

Bison in THRO

The board’s tasks included advising Zinke and the National Park Service on the designation of national historic and natural landmarks. The board also provides input on a wide range of issues from climate change to the administration of the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act.

Who are these people? Here’s the link. It’s gratifying to see that most of them are women.

Knowles told The Washington Post that the board, despite being required to meet twice a year, has not convened since President Trump took office. Knowles said members understood that the Trump administration would name its own board members. Still, he said the resignees were not consulted on recent decisions to increase visitor fees and to reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system.

Water bottles? Now there’s a sound environmental idea reversed by Sec. Zinke.

As for the government shutdown, I now read that national parks will stay open. There just won’t be any park personnel, just concessions. See the Washington Post.

Too bad that here in the Southeast, it’s so icy and cold that few visitors will venture into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed because of the weather. But otherwise, I would love to see what happens without park rangers.