BANDY CREEK — Visitors who had checked in at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area's campgrounds, including Bandy Creek and the Station Camp Horse camp, prior to Tuesday's partial shutdown of the federal government were told to exit the park by yesterday.
Campers were given until 6 p.m. Thursday to make arrangements to leave the park's campgrounds, as just how much the ongoing shutdown of the federal government will impact the 125,000-acre Big South Fork.
Most workers at the park were furloughed beginning Tuesday, with only personnel deemed "essential" — including some law enforcement personnel — remaining on duty. Headquarters at Leatherwood were vacant on Wednesday and Thursday, as was the visitors center at Bandy Creek. The park's website was taken offline, and guests were automatically directed to a blanket statement on the Department of the Interior's website, while emails to park service personnel were returned as unreadable.
Initially, the park opted only to lock all facilities — including restroom facilities at trailheads — and place signs on them informing the public of the park's closure. However, a number of high-use areas were barricaded on Thursday, including the road to East Rim Overlook and the river access area at Leatherwood Ford. Some lesser-used areas, such as Station Camp River Access and most of the park's trailheads, remained without barricades or signage informing visitors of the shutdown as of late Thursday.
According to a news release issued by the park after an inquiry by Oneida radio station WBNT, "all visitor facilities including visitors centers, campgrounds and roads, except thru roads, are closed. The park will remain closed until the government reopens.
"In addition, all park programs and special events have been canceled," the release continued.
Further north, Daniel Boone National Forest in McCreary County was closed, with gates closed on access roads and facilities locked down.
The government shutdown comes at an inopportune time for local businesses that rely on the Big South Fork's tourism. October is the peak visitor time at Big South Fork, especially for equestrian activities. Several horseback riders who had made the trip to the northern Cumberland Plateau for the purpose of taking advantage of the early fall foliage season on the park's equine trails were forced to abandon their plans and head back home. Meanwhile, a party of hunters camping in the backcountry said they had no idea the park had closed and planned to continue to hunt until being asked to leave.
Meanwhile, most local businesses that benefit from tourism were simply attempting to put the best spin on an otherwise negative situation. Laurel Fork Rustic Retreat, which offers cabin rentals adjacent to the Big South Fork, posted a Facebook message for campers who had lost their reserved spots at Bandy Creek Campground, advertising vacancies at their cabins as an alternative.
Oneida's Sherry Troxel, who manages Laurel Fork, said she was fielding several inquiries from visitors about what to expect with the park's closure.
Local officials worried about what the impact might be if the government shutdown — now in its fourth day with no end in sight — lingers on. The Boys & Girls Club of Scott County's Trailblazer Triple Challenge event, scheduled for Oct. 12-13, is slated to include a 13-mile backcountry race from the club's headquarters along the O&W to Leatherwood Ford.
Event coordinator Justin Sharpe said Thursday that the event will go on regardless, but if an agreement is not reached on Capitol Hill, plans will have to be altered. Instead of racing along the river to Leatherwood Ford, runners would do an in-and-out race from the club to O&W and back, he said.