GATLINBURG (WATE) - Park rangers say criminals are taking advantage of the federal government shutdown.
Rangers told 6 News they are dealing with trespassing, vandalism and
theft attempts as most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
According to Chief Ranger Clay Jordan, two attempts to vandalize and
steal donation boxes were reported at the Newfound Gap parking lot and
the gated access of Newfound Gap Road and Clingman's Dome Road. A gate
was also broken off Cherokee Orchard Road.
Thankfully no money was taken, but it was a hit to the organizations
that help the park pay for things like trail repairs and educational
"It's criminals who are trying to take advantage of the an
opportunity figuring that there's a little less presence in the park of
staff, and the park is dependent on these organizations," said Jordan.
One box belongs to Friends of the Smokies. Officials there say, because
of the shutdown, they had already retrieved most of the money out of
this donation site, but the damage is done, costing more than $3,000 to
A donation box owned by Great Smoky Mountains Association was another target Saturday night.
custom one-of-a-kind and each time one gets vandalized or torn up, the
particular box at Clingmans Dome will cost us about $2,000 to replace
it," said Terry Maddox Executive Director of the Great Smoky Mountains
The break-ins couldn't have come at a worse time.
under stress and having problems so someone taking advantage of that
situation for probably very little money," added Maddox.
Even though there's a skeleton crew working at the Smokies, park officials say they're amping up security.
"We're focusing them on the protection of visitors within the
Newfound Gap Road, the Highway 441 over the mountain which is open to
the public, and to the protection of park property and resources around
the park," added Chief Ranger Jordan.
Maddox says he was alerting rangers to check boxes throughout the park Sunday, and Monday the boxes will be collected.
"They have had pretty good success in figuring these things out and bringing someone to justice," said Maddox.
Anyone with information is urged to call Smoky Mountains Headquarters at 865-436-1294.
All national park visitor centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, trails and roads are closed except Newfound Gap Road, the Spur and the Gatlinburg bypass.