By LAURA HALM
6 News Reporter
GATLINBURG (WATE) - Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials spent Tuesday closing off the park's entrances after a government shutdown began at midnight.
Park officials made plans to close the park as it became clear that Congress was not going to pass a budget bill before the midnight deadline.
Warning signs were all over the Great Smoky Mountains alerting drivers the park was closed. Park rangers were busy directing traffic out of the park.
"My sister and I just drove up to see how far the barricade would be and the loop, which we expected to be closed. So we headed back down and now of course here at the 'Wye' they're closing everything off," said park visitor Jim Millsaps.
Campgrounds, picnic areas, restrooms, visitor centers, and trail heads in the Smokies are closed. Newfound Gap Road and the Gatlinburg Bypass will remain open.
Visitors like Muriel Fawcet had to pack up her easel along with painting supplies and set up somewhere else.
"Well he said I could come to this parking lot but eventually they're going to close that off. I'm not sure what we'll do we may have to go to Townsend and paint there," she said.
The furloughs affect 279 park employees along with 60 concessions employees and 45 Great Smoky Mountains Association employees who are similarly affected. 47 employees remain on duty, providing security and emergency services.
Mike Whittaker works in the riding stables which was closed Tuesday at noon. He was told there may still be some work to do.
"We just have a certain time we go in we go up take care of those horses and come back out. That's sort of the way it is right now until they decide otherwise," added Whittaker.
This shutdown is hitting local businesses hard, like the National Park Market. Employees there say they recently opened and rely on out of town visitors.
"If they can't get into the park then they're just going to pass on by. Because they don't need the park information that we have," said employee Joyce Green.
Park officials say special events like school field trips along with the 27 weddings scheduled have also been canceled.
Park visitors in all overnight campgrounds and lodges will be given until 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 3 to make travel arrangements and leave the park. In addition, all park programs, Parks as Classrooms education programs, and special events have been canceled including permitted weddings and special services in park facilities.
All 401 of America's National Parks are closed with around 20,000 employees furloughed until the government shutdown is over.
Because it will not be maintained, the National Park Service website will be down for the duration of the shutdown. NPS.gov has more than 750,000 pages and 91 million unique visitors each year.
Leconte Lodge also closed Tuesday, as it operates within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundaries.
Leconte officials say no overnight or day hiker services will be available during the shutdown.
All guests holding overnight reservations during the time the lodge is closed will be able to receive credit for the 2014 season or receive a full refund within 30 days of their reservation date.