The temporary funding that has kept visitor centers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park open during the partial federal government shutdown ends this afternoon.
Great Smoky Mountains Association, a nonprofit educational group, provided stopgap funding to keep visitor centers at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove open, along with restroom facilities and trash pickup. But that funding ends at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday.
"At that time the...visitor centers and their adjoining restrooms will close, and trash pickup at those locations will end," GSMA president Laurel Rematore said in an e-mail. Those services will resume only if one of two things happens: the government shutdown ends, or another private entity steps forward to pay for operations. As of Monday evening, Rematore said, she was unaware of any group planning to step into GSMA's wake.
The government shutdown also appeared unlikely to end. On Monday, House Democrats announced a plan to resume federal operations curtailed since December 22, but the plan does not include funding for President Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Republicans say that's a non-starter.
The National Park Service says roads into and through Great Smoky Mountains National Park will remain open for now. That includes Newfound Gap Road, which links communities in Tennessee and North Carolina. It also includes Foothills Parkway, whose long-awaited section between Walland and Wears Valley opened to drivers in November.
Visitors will need to keep restrictions in mind when touring the park for the time being. They'll have to use restrooms in towns outside the park, and take any trash they generate with them when they leave.
"We are very concerned that trash cans will overflow, attracting wildlife and creating sanitation issues," GSMA's Rematore said.
Campgrounds at Smokemont and Cades Cove are unstaffed and reservations won't be enforced. No backcountry camping permits will be issued until the park can resume normal operations. The park's online backcountry information page says, "Any entry onto [National Park Service] property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor's sole risk."