Just in time for tourism businesses across “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies” to ramp up for the weekend, the State of Tennessee has ironed out details for reopening the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through a collaborative effort involving local governments in Blount and Sevier counties as well as a statement of cooperation from the State of North Carolina – all under the guidelines issued late last week by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
According to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, the state is paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County, with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days.
The re-opening comes as welcome news for Blount County, Tenn., and its foothills community of Townsend – billed as “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies” – where tourism is big business and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closure hit the community hard.
“We’re breathing a collective sigh of relief,” said Blount Partnership Director of Tourism Tami Vater. “The hospitality industry in Townsend remained open for business throughout these recent weeks, but the Park’s re-opening will certainly give our tourism community a much-needed shot in the arm – and just in time, as our fall foliage season begins to shine.”
“This announcement speaks to the level of collaboration that Gov. Haslam has helped forge among state and county governments alike for our community, our state and for the entire Great Smoky Mountains area,” said Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell. “Blount County is proud to participate in a common-sense solution that benefits our businesses, visitors, citizens and entire community.”
“We couldn’t be more grateful as well to the leadership of Senators Alexander and Corker and Congressman Duncan who helped make this solution come to fruition,” Mayor Mitchell said. “Sen. Alexander in particular worked through last weekend at the highest levels in Washington to help broker this positive outcome.”
Located south of Knoxville in East Tennessee, Blount County ranks eighth in the state for economic impact on tourism with $76 million annually in payroll tax and $10.5 million in local sales tax.
The Blount Partnership and local officials began mounting an all-encompassing marketing counter-offensive in recent weeks as the harsh reality of the shutdown hit home to the some
75 local businesses in the hospitality industry here, from resorts, restaurants, museums and other attractions.
The Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority can be contacted at (800) 525.6834 or (865) 983-2241 for help planning a trip and recommendations of attractions, accommodations and sites outside the park. Visit online at www.SmokyMountains.org.