Business near Smoky Mountains adjusting to closure

Business near Smoky Mountains adjusting to closure

October 4th, 2013 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

SEVIER, Tenn. - Businesses around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are making the adjustment to not having public access to the main attraction that brings people to the area.

Local officials have been telling prospective visitors there's still plenty to do and still lots of places to view fall displays even while the park is closed during a partial government shutdown.

October is one of the busiest times of year for the park and for many of its satellite businesses, as enjoy the fall colors as the leaves start to turn and families work in a mountain vacation during fall school breaks.

Gatlinburg Cabins Online manager Stephanie Hurst told The Mountain Press that cancellations have been few, but people are asking about other things to do in the area.

"We've had a couple of our in-cabin guests asking what they can still do," she said.

Around eastern Tennessee, people have been asking that question of businesses and tourism officials.

Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism Executive Director Leon Downey said the staff has received multiple phone calls and has been encouraging people to visit the area, even without the park being available.

"Wherever they are they can still see fall colors, and there's still family fun in Pigeon Forge," Downey said.

Downey said he'd talked to a number of people in the hospitality business and that, so far, most visitors weren't trying to reschedule or cancel their trips because of the closing.

In Gatlinburg, the Convention and Visitors Bureau was also receiving a lot of calls from people concerned about the park closure, spokeswoman Marci Claude said.

"Primarily, they have expressed disappointment and dismay with the government," Claude said.

Businesses relying directly on the park are feeling a pinch, though.

Vesna Plakanis and her husband, Eric, run a guided tour service in the park called A Walk in the Woods. October is their busiest month, she said, and they're looking at losing most of the money they'd expected to make if the park stays closed.

"This is our month. October is it, if we don't make our money in October we can't feed our families and pay our mortgages the rest of the year," she said. "It's that simple."

They have a staff of 10, including eight guides.

"We're losing, this weekend alone, over $10,000," she said. "We've got four backpacking trips scheduled, we've got shuttles and hikes, we've got night trips."