GSMNP visitor centers open during government shutdown, but not for long

GSMNP, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The partial government shut down affects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but guests are still able to stop in at the park's many visitors centers.

Kyla Dodds and her family are visiting from Florida. She said, "We came up here to have a good time, see some snow."

For anyone like Kyla visiting the park, the visitor centers provide you with services like park information and restrooms.

"It’s really an awesome thing that this place is here," said Dodds.

However, when the government shuts down, those services shut down as well. The Great Smoky Mountains Association is helping the park operate during the partial shut down.

"We felt it was very important to have at least some essential services," Laurel Rematore, the CEO for The Great Smoky Mountains Association, said. They are funding the Sugarlands and Oconaluftee visitor centers to operate restrooms and trash pick up. They are also keeping Cades Cove open.

The Great Smoky Mountain Association is a nonprofit partner with the park. They run the bookstores in the visitor centers and give the proceeds back to the park.

"We normally operate these visitors centers in tandem with park rangers or volunteers helping to staff centers and the stores," Rematore said. "We don’t operate one without the other, so that’s why it was really important for us to bring in this funding to make sure we were fully staffed."

Rematore doesn't want all the visitors to be without a place to stop for information, trash, and a bathroom.

"Everybody in Gatlinburg or Townsend, or even North Carolina is going to be driving through the park and they’re going to want to have a park experience," said Rematore.

Without the help from the association, visitors wouldn't be able to use the bathrooms and get help from the visitors center.

"It would be horrible," said Dodds. "You wouldn’t have anywhere to go. It gives your somewhere to go and somewhere to use the restrooms."

The Great Smoky Mountains Association's funding will end on January 2nd if the government is still shut down.