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Mabry Mill, Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant, the Blue Ridge Music Center, campgrounds and other sites will be closed for business.
The Roanoke Times | File January
All of the sites and attractions along the Blue Ridge parkway will close during the government shutdown.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
October is one of the busiest months on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Maybe not this year, however.
The parkway will remain open in case of a federal government shutdown, but all of the sites and attractions along the scenic road will close.
The National Park Service had ordered the closing of the road if Congress could not reach a resolution by 12:01 a.m. today to keep the government running. However, park service officials decided Monday to keep the 469-mile parkway open.
“The mother road will be open,” said Steve Stinnett, the parkway’s chief ranger.
Nevertheless, all parkway attractions will close if there is a shutdown. Mabry Mill, Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant, the Blue Ridge Music Center, campgrounds and other sites will be closed for business.
Those closures will be among the most visible effects of a government shutdown, which will idle hundreds of federal employees in the Roanoke Valley, will limit services available at the Social Security Administration office on South Jefferson Street and will force the closing of the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County.
The closings of popular parkway attractions will mean economic hardship for people such as Karen Radcliff, whose North Carolina-based company Sally Mae’s LLC operates Mabry Mill’s restaurant and gift shop.
“For this mom-and-pop, October determines whether we make money or not this season,” said Radcliff. “That’s the month that is most precious to us.”
Radcliff said that park service officials told her Monday that she should plan to open the mill today, in case Congress reaches a last-minute agreement to keep the government running. In fact, all parkway concessionaires and staff have been instructed to prepare for a regular business day unless notified by parkway officials.
Should the government shut down, the National Park Service ordered parkway sites to close. Campers and guests at parkway lodges, such as the Peaks of Otter, will have 48 hours to leave.
Robert Peters, the new general manager at Peaks of Otter, said that the lodge and restaurant will be closed and employees will be told to stay home.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Peters, who took over as general manager in August, shortly after the lodge and restaurant were re-opened by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, a hospitality company based in Buffalo, N.Y.
If a shutdown occurs, most employees at parkway sites will be out of work until a resolution is reached. Peaks of Otter employs 72 people, Mabry Mill has 44 full-time and part-time employees.
News that the parkway would remain open was greeted with relief by business owners near the parkway.
“That’s wonderful news,” said Cheri Baker, who owns the Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel on Virginia 8 in Floyd County. “It’s good news for citizens of the country to be able to drive on a road that’s theirs.”
Felecia Shelor, owner of Poor Farmer’s Market in Meadows of Dan in Patrick County, said that a parkway closure would have been devastating to her business.
“My business is totally dependent on this month,” Shelor said. However, the closings of other parkway sites worried her.
October usually marks the end of peak travel season on the parkway, as up to 2 million tourists visit the mountains to see the fall colors.
Parkway visitation has declined in recent years, however, and this year’s budget sequester forced the closings of visitors centers, campgrounds and picnic areas along the route.
Other shutdown-related effects:
According to the Virginia Employment Commission, about 4,000 federal employees work in the Roanoke metro area, nearly 3 percent of Roanoke’s non-farm workforce. About 400 federal employees work in the New River Valley.
It is unclear how many of those people will be out of work during a shutdown. Statewide, Virginia has about 172,000 federal employees.
Affordable Care Act
The launch of an online insurance marketplace — which as the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act was also at the heart of the funding impasse — will go on as scheduled today regardless of whether there’s a government shutdown.
The system, through which people who make up to four times the federal poverty guideline can shop for subsidized health insurance, is not dependant on funding in the new fiscal year, according to Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the new health care law.
And because the discounts on health insurance can also be used as tax credits, the marketplaces, also known as exchanges, that offer them are considered an essential government service.
Also unaffected by what happens in Washington will be the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem.
Both inpatient and outpatient care for veterans, as well as the processing of compensation and pension claims, will continue as normal at all VA centers.
Defendants facing criminal charges in federal court will not get a last-minute continuance. Civil cases also will proceed as scheduled, and the clerk’s office will be open to handle court filings until further notice, according to a notice on the website for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
But in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, only employees involved in criminal litigation will report to work if there’s a shutdown. As many as 24 of the 80-some staffers who are involved in what’s deemed nonessential functions — civil cases, community outreach, victim and witness assistance — would be furloughed, U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy said.
Staff writers Laurence Hammack, Jeff Sturgeon and Michael Sluss contributed to this report.
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