Blount County Mayor wants to reopen national park

Tourists were told to leave the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the Townsend area. (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

TOWNSEND, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Blount County Mayor, Ed Mitchell, says he wants to take over control of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while park employees are on furlough.

Mitchell says the county is willing to step up and maintain access to the national park while the federal employees are not working. Mitchell says getting the park open is vital for the county's economy.

"There will be some cost, but the cost will be minimal compared to the millions of dollars we're gonna lose in tax revenue by this not being open," said Mitchell. "If you look at the economic health of this county, We can't afford not to do this."

Mitchell has sent his request to the Department of Interior and is waiting to get a response.

28% of Blount County is in the National Park. He says some of the most popular parts of the park can't be accessed. He wants to see county sheriff's deputies and road workers to maintain the park. He says he would not open campgrounds.

Businesses near the park say they've seen an impact, but it could be a lot worse. They say they're worried about weeks from now when people have time to change vacation plans.

Smoky Mountain Heritage Center is going forward with plans for a woodcarvers festival this weekend. Organizers say there's still plenty for people to do and ways for people to see the fall colors in the Smokies.

"This is all done by hand, so all the items that you'll see here it's not put on a machine, it's not put on a lath, this is done by hand. So all the items here are unique," said Robert Patterson, Director of the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Folks can attend the festival October 5, 2013 @ 10:00 am – 6:00 pm for $4.

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