As if our National Park Service budget is not tight enough, now we have sequestration. This means our U.S. Congress has cut another 5% to an already sparse budget. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has had to make tough decisions on what to close, leave open or just delay. This is a sad, sad state of affairs that is affecting me personally.
Three campgrounds will never open – Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Look Rock. These are small, out-of-way campgrounds that some visitors may have loved and visited year after year.
With the closure of US 441 (Newfound Gap road) until May and the other road closures due to budget cuts, we’ve had to change our Friends of the Smokies hikes several times. We’ve just had to adapt. But we’ll still have a good hiking program.
The road closure that will affect hikers the most on the North Carolina side is Heintooga Road. Since the road is closed, Polls Gap, the easiest way to Hemphill Bald, is not accessible. Friends of the Smokies has gone up there the last two years to meet Judy Coker, the owner of Cataloochee Ranch. See the picture above. Thankfully, that’s not one of our planned hikes this year.
All these closures will also affect those hikers trying to finish the Smokies 900 – all the trails in the Smokies.
Hikers, keep things in perspective. The Smokies has over 800 miles of trails. Almost all are open. So you’ll just have to be inventive and find other ways to get to your trail.