People gather in Smokies to protest closure of national parks

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Protestors holding signs encouraging cars to honk are hopeful their message to congressmen comes across loud and clear:

"They really can't do things like this without there being a cause and effect," said Jeremiah Spelas, who organized the protest.

Jennifer Kittredge owns a shop in Gatlinburg. She said October is extremely important to her.

"This is our biggest month of the year. So this is like our Christmas for most retailers," said Kittredge.

But with the national parks closed because of the shutdown, business is slow. Kittredge isn't the only one feeling the pain:

"If you can't make your bills and your rent and your overhead, and you can't pay your employees, you fold up. And you have no choice. And it's going to happen to all of us," said Doc Waddel, who owns seven shops around town.

The tourists who are in town can't enjoy what they came for. The Whitacres traveled all the way from Nevada with 34 others to hike the Smokies. They planned their trip a year ago.

"The plans were already made. Everyone had their airline tickets and you know, hotel reservations and really it was too tough to cancel, so they're all coming in today and we'll just do the best we can," said Paul Whitacre.

Organizers said people donated their land to create the park back in 1940.

"They were promised to always have access. Now they're denied the access to the graves of their loved ones. It's ridiculous and I just thought if we all get together and practice our freedom of speech, maybe other people in other places will do the same," said Spelas.

He's hopeful that will encourage lawmakers to reach a deal and reopen the government.

A Western Carolina University economist estimates that the park closure cost North Carolina and Tennessee more than $33 million in lost visitor spending in just the first 10 days of the shutdown.

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