NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam late this afternoon announced the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will reopen Wednesday for five days under an agreement with the National Park Service.
“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said in a news release. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”
The park, which straddles northwest Tennessee and western North Carolina, was shut down two weeks ago as congressional Republicans battle with President Barack Obama and his fellow congressional Democrats over the budget.
The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Sevier County has sent $300,500 to the National Park Service to reopen the park until Sunday by which time Haslam hopes the budget impasse will be resolved.
The state is actually paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to pay for operation of the park for five days.
An park service report found that the 9.6 million visitors to the Smoky Mountains National Park during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Haslam says he has worked with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who has expressed a willingness to assist financially.
But at this point, Haslam isn’t coughing up Tennessee tax dollars to reopen other national parks, including the Tennessee portion of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...