UPDATE: Friends of the Smokies helps to keep restrooms open after human waste found in GSMNP
UPDATE: The Friends of the Smokies organization will begin paying the salaries of a handful of national park employees so that some bathrooms in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can reopen during the government shutdown. The organization says the park asked them to help after human waste was found outside bathrooms in Newfound Gap and Cades Cove.
Friends of the Smokies has committed between $15,000 and $18,000 to help pay the salaries of a handful of national park employees. This will keep the restrooms at the Cades Cove and Newfound Gap visitor centers open, and hopefully, keep those sections of the park clean.
"We hope that everyone will be respectful of the park," said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. "We would hope that everybody would leave no trace."
Park employees furloughed because of the shutdown can no longer wander the hundreds of miles of trails picking up trash left behind by visitors. The visitor centers and bathrooms are also closed, making for some real problems at more popular stops like Cades Cove and Newfound Gap.
"There had been some human degradation at both those locations and they will be maintained on a daily basis," said Hart. "They have asked us to help fund park employee’s salaries to keep the restrooms open at Newfound Gap and the Cades Cove visitor’s center."
Friday Friends of the Smokies announced they would pay the salaries of a handful of national park employees during the government shutdown so that restrooms at Newfound Gap and Cades Cove can reopen.
PREVIOUS STORY: Three visitor centers that were kept open in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the government shutdown are now closed.
The non-profit Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) paid more than $50,000 to operate the Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove visitor centers during the busy holidays, but that funding only lasted through New Year's Day.
For the remainder the government shutdown, there will be no more open bathrooms or garbage collection anywhere in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Laurel Rematore, CEO of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, said paying to keep the visitor centers open prevented problems with overflowing trash reported at many other national parks during the shutdown.
"I'm really concerned about sanitation issues and protecting our wildlife. People need to know that the restrooms inside the park are not open and the trash cans are not being serviced. Within a few days, probably, the trash cans will be overflowing and attracting wildlife who become habituated to human food, and then that's a bad thing for the wildlife," said Rematore.
The GSMA says it will still operate at its visitor centers located outside the national park in Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Bryson City. Visitors to the Smokies can still stop there to get information on the national park, use bathrooms, and dispose of trash.