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Shutdown could hurt NC tourism from mountains to coast

By Martha Quillin
mquillin@newsobserver.com


Flat Top Manor in the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, on the Blue Ridge Parkway and operated by the National Park Service, is closed due to the government shutdown. Tourists can still walk down to the manor, which is normally a craft shop and demonstration center, to view the scenery. JEFF WILHELM, The Charlotte Observer.

Shutting down the 70 miles of beach inside Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the first day of striper season – and just as the drum, blues and pompano are starting to show up – could have the same effect on the Outer Banks’ fall tourism season as a major hurricane.

Except that instead of helping businesses recover from a financial disaster afterward, this time the federal government would be to blame.

“There would be devastation here, truthfully,” said Scott Leggat, vice president of marketing and administration for Outer Beaches Realty, which manages 500 rental homes and condos on Hatteras Island. “We’ve had two years in a row of hurricanes, followed by weeks and weeks of road closures on the island that killed the fall season.

“We’ve had our fingers crossed for weeks hoping for no tropical storms, and it looks like we’re finally there, and then this? This could be worse than any storm that we’ve imagined.”

Barring a last-minute agreement between House Republicans and Senate Democrats on budget legislation, operations of the federal government that rely on annual appropriations were scheduled to shut down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. While the arguments happen in Washington, the effects are felt across the country and from one end of North Carolina to the other.

The National Park Service would lock all the gates that provide fishermen a way to drive onto the beach during the popular fall fishing season at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Farther south, Cape Lookout National Seashore also would be closed, including to pedestrians. Visitor centers would close, along with campgrounds, though campers would be given 48 hours to evacuate their sites. The Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses would be closed, as would the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, said Cyndy Holda, spokeswoman for the National Park Service’s Outer Banks Group. Three air strips inside the federal coast parks also will be closed.

Tuesday morning, Holda said, “We’ll all come to work as usual,” and find out whether the government is still operating. If not, rangers will go about shutting down facilities and notifying visitors, and then all but essential personnel will begin a furlough of indeterminate length.

Just as they do when a storm is spinning toward them in the Atlantic Ocean, Holda said, “We’re prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.”

On the western end of the state, mountain communities getting ready for their busiest time of year – leaf-viewing season – are bracing to see what the shutdown will do to their business.

Until mid-afternoon Monday, Blue Ridge Parkway officials were making plans to close down nearly all 469 miles of the scenic highway, from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, just as if a huge snow storm had made the two-lane road impassable. But then the Department of the Interior issued a new directive, said Steve Stinnett, chief ranger for the parkway: The roadway itself will remain open, but all park-run facilities such as visitor centers, campgrounds and picnic areas would be closed and all but 43 of the parkway’s 238 employees will be sent home.

All facilities in the Smokies park also will close if the government shuts down, though U.S. 441 that runs through the park will remain open.

October is one of the busiest months of the year on the parkway, as drivers amble along the peak-hugging highway to take in panoramic views painted in the reds and golds of autumn. At higher elevations, trees and wildflowers already are showing bits of color.

While they’re in the area, many visitors stay in hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns along the parkway or in communities a few miles off the route. They shop for quilts and apple butter in local stores. They eat smoked trout in area restaurants.

“This is our biggest month,” said Jackie Jensen, owner of Switzerland Inn in the community of Little Switzerland, on the parkway in McDowell County.

Monday, Jensen said she had gotten a lot of calls from people planning trips wondering whether the inn would be open.

Absolutely, Jensen told them.

Whatever the government does, she said, “We’re going to be open, the color is going to be beautiful and our fire places are going.”

Jensen, like other people who earn their living from parkway visitors, hope word gets out that the road is still open. But come November, Jensen will stop worrying about whether the shutdown will hurt her business. At the end of October, as she does every year, she’ll shut down, too.

Quillin: 919-829-8989
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