The Government Shut Down is over here in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Kind of. In fact, the states of Tennesee and North Carolina rounded up enough funding to be able to open the park for five days. Hopefully, the federal government can fix things up within that five days so that the park can stay open. Might I add, GSMNP is the only park in TN to open on state funds, other federal sites in TN and other states remain closed until the federal funding comes.
I haven’t written in a long time, I wanted to, but I felt the biggest and best thing to write about was the shut down, so I decided to wait until it was over to provide some immediate retrospect, maybe more will come later on down the road as well.
Ultimately, I feel a bit robbed, because I am only here in the Smokies for such a short time. I wasted about two weeks of work. Wasted? Or did I? Last summer, I got told to lead a backpacking trip on extremely short notice, and I was not terribly pleased. However, I told myself, there’s no use in crying about it, so rather, I chose to embrace the challenge and prepare and lead a good trip. When this government shut down came along short notice, I used the same attitude. I wasn’t happy about the shut down and the park closing at all. I didn’t want to miss valuable time to learn and work inside the park. But I could have held a grudge and lumped myself in a corner, or I could have embraced it and made great use of my time. I chose the latter.
The shutdown was really frustrating because I still could ‘live’ in the park, but could not ‘use’ it at all. You might thinking living in a shut down national park is a dream come true, but it’s not. One, it feels very post-apocalyptic, like everyone died and you’re the only one left. Two, legally, you cannot do anything in it. I couldn’t hike, bike, drive my car (except to get in and out of the park) for any recreational purpose. It’s like being captive in the most beautiful prison in the world, or in my case being a hiker surrounded by unusable trails, like putting a kid in a candy shop and telling them not to take any. The only perk really, was getting to view undisturbed wildlife from my house.
But just because there isn’t a national park to explore doesn’t mean there’s nothing to explore.
Keeping with my attitude of exploration and attempt to understand ‘sense of place,’ I decided to see what else the wonderful state of Tennessee had to offer (with some side trips to NC and VA). I visited Nashville, checking out the honky tonks, college campuses, and other sights like LP Field (home of the Tennessee Titans). Naturally, I also sampled the local beer culture. I was very much impressed by Fat Bottom and Jackalope Breweries (Jackalope is rare in the fact that it’s owned by two women, get it ladies! Great beer!). I got to hang out with some great friends in Nashville.
After Nashville I was on to Knoxville, where I visited another brewery, Downtown Brewery and Grille. They had a German style Altbier, so those that know me, know I went for that first. A great feel to the place, and it was buzzing on a Friday before a University of Tennesee gameday. Gameday, you say? You know I had to check out the SEC vibe. I spent a Saturday in Knoxville, walking the campus, hanging with Vol fans and Georgia fans, and looking for a cheap ticket to the game. I found one, and got to attend a spectacular game in UT vs. UGA. It was my first SEC football game in the massive Neyland Stadium, quite a spectacle. But after that weekend, the shutdown dragged on into next weekend. For just a moment, I had to cross the border into my beloved Virginia. Why? Because my Hokies were playing at home vs. Pitt! I got an unexpected trip to Blacksburg to visit friends, my alma mater, and watch football! An amazing time with amazing people whom I truly love. I’m sorry, but there ain’t nothing like gameday in Blacksburg!
(yes, sports, and the pageantry that surrounds it, is culture)
The time in between these trips to different locations, I’ve been floating around the outskirts of the park finding things to do. I’ve been fortunate to join in on some local, old time music, jams. It has been great to learn and play music that originated in the region with very talented local people. I have been introduced to the mountain dulcimer, hammer dulcimer, and bowed psaltery; three instruments I had never even seen before living in Tennessee. Old time is true mountain music, and the predecessor to bluegrass. I’ve enjoyed dipping into this classic genre of music, and finally playing with people again.
So if there’s no national park, there’s not nature to explore, right? Wrong. While in Nashville, we checked out Radnor Lake State Park for a short hike, and upon my departure I visited Fall Creek Falls State Park, which hosts many beautiful waterfalls. I was also thoroughly impressed by these parks, I’m glad I visited. I probably would not have otherwise if GSMNP wasn’t closed; in some way, a positive to the shut down. I also made it over into NC twice, with a hike from Hot Springs, NC (a beautiful little trail town through which the AT runs on the sidewalk) south on the AT, and an absolutely breathtaking circumnavigation of Max Patch, on the AT in NC. Man, I cannot describe the beauty found on these hikes outside the park. When I found out I couldn’t use the park trails I was devastated but I got to experience amazing places outside of the park. I had to put in a little extra work to get there, but it was well worth it. And I did it alongside amazing folks who have great hiking knowledge and love the park as much, if not more, than me.
My last little jaunt during this shut down was a Civil War Re-Enactment just outside of Knoxville. I went to the Re-Enactment of the Battle of Fort Sanders. It was hugely entertaining and historically informative. I have been to re-enactments before, but it was great to see one in TN. I have been reading about how the war effected east Tennessee so it was nice to see a real life depiction. I realized (or was reminded) two things at this re-enactment: 1. The re-enactors and other demonstrators were doing essentially what I do at the park, interpretation. It was great to be back in an interpretive environment. 2. Re-enacting and interpretation is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves as a culture. Re-enactors and interpreters bring subjects, like history, to life. It makes it emotional and relevant. It makes an impact. The most important thing we can do is remember our history. I thank those that are helping us do that, because in a world focused on math and science, I sometimes think we forget to.
So, this may have just sounded like a list of cool things I got to do, or like a got an unexpected vacation. That might be true. But that’s because I made it that way. I want there to be a point. I was put in a bad situation, as we all were here at the park. I wasn’t happy about it, and if we could go back and do it again, I wouldn’t want the shut down to happen (despite the cool things I got to do). What I’m saying is, never let an unfortunate situation slow you down. Keep your head up, and make positive use of the situation. Listen, our national parks are the crowned jewels in this nation when it comes to culture, nature, and history. The national parks were America’s best idea, and shutting them down was its worst idea. But that doesn’t mean those things can’t be found outside the parks in a big way. You don’t always have to look to big, preserved, famous areas to engage yourself into culture or nature, but rather, look under your nose. Seize every opportunity to find and interact with nature, culture, and history. Always surround yourself with amazing and positive people. Always turn a negative situation into a positive one. If you do so, you will never let an inconvenience, unfortunate circumstance, or even a shut down, shut you down.
How did I celebrate the re-opening though? Hiking, of course, in the park, with a beautiful, and more tiring than I thought, trip up to Ramsey Cascades.