Blue Ridge Parkway closures, longer airport lines? How would shutdown impact WNC?

Sept. 30 update: The federal government shutdown has been averted the night of Sept. 30 as a temporary stopgap measure ― known as a continuing resolution ― passed the House and Senate and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it before midnight. All federal agencies, including the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, will remain open.

No bathrooms on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Longer lines at Asheville Regional Airport? Closed Asheville child care centers?

While many of these possibilities are still up in the air, the disruptions that come with federal government shutdowns have become unnervingly more familiar. If congressional Republicans fail to reach an agreement by this weekend, the country could see its 22nd shutdown in the last five decades.

Amid largely stalled negotiations on Capitol Hill, the federal Office of Management and Budget has already begun the process of advising agencies which employees it may have to furlough ahead of a looming deadline at midnight Sept. 30, according to reporting by USA TODAY.

Here are some ways the potential federal government shutdown could impact residents and visitors to Asheville and Western North Carolina:

Find more information about the potential shutdown here, Operations in the Absence of Appropriations | U.S. Department of the Interior (

A woman reads the names of the mountains on a sign at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway on May 30, 2019.
A woman reads the names of the mountains on a sign at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway on May 30, 2019.

Would national parks in WNC close?

Some of the best-known and most beloved federal agencies in Western North Carolina are its national parks. Citizen Times calls to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Carl Sandburg Home were all referred to regional and Washington offices of the National Park Service. NPS Chief of Public Affairs Officer Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles told the Citizen Times in a Sept. 26 email that NPS doesn’t have any information to offer "at this time."

However, during previous government shutdowns the parkway, Smokies and Sandburg Home closed and limited visitor resources, including roads, trails, campgrounds, visitor centers and bathrooms.

The Smokies sprawl across a half-million acres of rugged, forested terrain in WNC and eastern Tennessee. It's the most-visited national park, with some 12.9 million visitors in 2022 and employs over 300 people.

The parkway curves along some of the highest peaks in the Eastern United States, stretching 469 miles from its start at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, passing through Asheville, and ending at the entrance to the Smokies in Cherokee. It is the most visited unit of the National Park Service, with some 15.7 million visitors in 2022.

Leesa Brandon, spokesperson for the parkway told the Citizen Times in a Sept. 26 email that July and October are typically the highest visitation months on the parkway. For the past two years, there have been more than 2 million visitors in October, hiking and viewing fall foliage at places such as Graveyard Fields and Mount Pisgah.

There are currently 136 permanent employees on the parkway and 58 temporary employees, which are primarily seasonal, according to Brandon.

During the October 2013 federal shutdown, Bruce O'Connell, owner of the Pisgah Inn on the parkway, refused to close the inn and restaurant. O'Connell told the Citizen Times Sept. 27 that because the parkway is a "thoroughfare," highway that connects to other roads, it doesn't have to shut down like other national parks.

"I have every reason to expect that the Blue Ridge Parkway, since it is a thoroughfare, which is really different than most of the other national parks, will remain just what it did back in 2013, open," he said.

"If something was to change and an official shutdown from the government happened and I get some letter saying I've got to close then .. stay tuned."

The Pisgah Inn has around 50 employees, according to O'Connell.

More: Foliage forecast: Looking to travel to WNC, Asheville? Experts predict peak fall colors

During previous government shutdowns the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed and limited visitor resources.
During previous government shutdowns the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed and limited visitor resources.

The NPS had no additional comment on whether the roads and hiking trails will be closed, as well as whether employees would be furloughed, both actions that have been taken during previous government shutdowns.

"We are hopeful that a lapse in congressional appropriations will not occur. I don’t have any updates on our contingency plan at this time," said Polly Angelakis, superintendent of Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock told the Hendersonville Times-News by email Sept. 27.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sent out a news release Sept. 29 announcing that if a shutdown occurs NPS sites will be closed.

"At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed. Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety," the release said.

Only necessary NPS staff that protect "life and the property" will continue to work during the shutdown, this includes law enforcement and emergency response, according to the release.

For more on the parkway, visit or check the Facebook page at

For more on the Smokies, visit or check Facebook/com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS.

Views along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Views along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

National forests

Kimberly DeVall, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina, said she had not yet heard what the operational status of WNC's national forests — the Pisgah and Nantahala ― will be if there is a lapse in appropriations.

"My guess is we may not know until Friday (Sept. 29)," DeVall said.

DeVall forwarded the Citizen Times questions to regional and Washington offices for the U.S. Forest Service, but the paper did not receive immediate responses.

More than a dozen cars park illegally along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the full parking lot at Graveyard Fields on July 13, 2020.
More than a dozen cars park illegally along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the full parking lot at Graveyard Fields on July 13, 2020.

During previous government shutdowns, WNC has seen the closure of national parks and national forests, leading to fallen trees on roads, closed roads, trails and visitor centers and the furlough of all but essential employees including law enforcement.

The Nantahala and Pisgah national forests that sweep across the mountains of Western North Carolina contain 1.1 million acres and receive about 5 million annual visitors. They contain some of the most popular roads and attractions such as Bent Creek Experimental Forest, U.S. 276 near Brevard, Looking Glass Falls and the Black Balsam area's backcountry hiking trails.

More info at

More: 5 popular waterfalls to check out in WNC, plus tips to stay safe

Will flights continue out of Asheville Regional Airport?

Airport spokesperson Tina Kinsey said services provided by the airport are unlikely to be affected by the shutdown, but federal agencies in the airport might have a different story.

"We are watching for the government’s shutdown plan – we don’t have details yet regarding potential impact. The federal agencies that operate at the airport are the TSA and the FAA, so the services they provide are what we are watching," Kinsey said.

Tina Kinsey, vice president of marketing, public relations and air service for the Asheville Regional Airport.
Tina Kinsey, vice president of marketing, public relations and air service for the Asheville Regional Airport.

"We don’t anticipate impact, because the customer-facing services they provide are considered 'essential,' so staff members will most likely continue to work without pay during a potential shutdown. But, again, we are waiting to see the plan."

As the airport is privately owned, passengers shouldn't expect any building closures or absent maintenance staff, but passengers could see longer lines if TSA employees are furloughed.

"We encourage travelers to stay in contact with their airlines via airline websites or apps, for the most up-to-date information about specific flights. The airport will post relevant information on our website to direct passengers," Kinsey said.

The airport is seeing its busiest time in history, breaking its passenger record in July, with 244,504 passengers flying through the airport — surpassing its previous passenger record of 226,839 in June.


More: Eagles, ammo, live lobster and other things TSA allows through Asheville Regional Airport

Will Head Start centers remain open?

Head Start is a federal program that provides early childhood education, nutrition, health, and family services to children of low-income families. Brian Repass, Head Start director at Community Action Opportunities told the Citizen Times that the shutdown won't impact them.

"The shutdown will not impact CAO Head Start, at this point. Our grant funds run Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. If the shutdown continues past Dec. 31, it could be a problem," Repass said.

Kaitlyn Guyer, vice president of grants and continuous improvement at Verner for Early Learning said that it depends on the Head Start program.

Tim Blenco, with the YMCA, paints with children at the Verner Center for Early Learning June 27, 2023 in Asheville.
Tim Blenco, with the YMCA, paints with children at the Verner Center for Early Learning June 27, 2023 in Asheville.

Each program has a different time period of when they receive their grant. Our grant period is from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, we just got our grant at the beginning of this month," Guyer said.

Head Start programs mostly serve families who rely on federal programs for food and living assistance.

"I have been thinking a lot about the impact that it would have on the families that we serve and what we would need to do to be able to support them through that," she said.

The Verner Center for Early Learning has around 90 staff members and CAO Head Start has 95 employees.

For more on Head Start programs offered in Asheville, visit or

More: Hillcrest Head Start opens after being forced to close last year: Who can sign up?

Will WIC payments continue?

One of the federal programs Guyer is referring to is WIC, the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children that serves low-income pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5, according to the U.S. food and nutrition website.

Stacey Wood, spokesperson for Buncombe County's Health and Human Services department, told the Citizen Times that they haven't heard anything about WIC services stopping or being impacted by the shutdown.

Buncombe County Public Health building on Coxe Avenue
Buncombe County Public Health building on Coxe Avenue

"These situations have come up in the past and WIC was not impacted, as Congress found agreeable terms quickly," Wood said.

Summer Tonizzo, spokesperson for N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told the Citizen Times in a Sept. 27 email that in 2013, the federal shutdown resulted in some of the NCDHHS team being furloughed and some services "curtailed or paused."

"We will have a better understanding of impacts from a potential shutdown following federal guidance. The department is committed to communicating quickly and clearly to everyone in North Carolina who will face impacts should a shutdown occur next week," Tonizzo said.

For more information on WIC, visit

Social Security Administration

Patti Patterson, regional communications director for the Social Security Administration, referred to the agency's 2024 fiscal year contingency plan in the event of a government shutdown.

About 8,500 of the Social Security administration’s nearly 62,000 employees would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, according to the plan.

Under the plan, agency services that would continue without interruption include processing of benefit applications, appeal requests and hearings, post-entitlement actions such as address changes and the issuing of new and replacement Social Security cards. A few services – such as verification of benefits, or corrections and updates to earnings records – would be temporarily suspended.

"We will continue activities critical to our direct-service operations and those needed to ensure accurate and timely payment of benefits," the plan states. Activities not directly related to payment of benefits or critical for direct-service operations will be ceased.

USA TODAY reports that according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., major programs and benefits such as Social Security and Medicare are generally unaffected by shutdowns because Congress has approved these programs to spend without an expiration date – known as mandatory spending, which comprises about $7 of every $10 spent by the federal government.

For more information on the Social Security Administration, visit or call 800-772-1213.

U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service will not be interrupted in the event of a federal shutdown, according to Philip Bogenberger, a North Carolina-based spokesperson for the postal service.

"All Post Offices will remain open for business as usual," he said in an emailed statement to the Citizen Times.

"Because we are an independent entity that is generally funded through the sale of our products and services, and not by tax dollars, our services will not be impacted by a government shutdown."

Members of Congress representing WNC

Three members of Congress representing the region − Republicans Rep. Chuck Edwards and Sens. Thom Tillis and Ted Budd − gave mixed responses about the importance of avoiding a government shutdown, with Tillis and Edwards saying it must be avoided. Budd did not state his position on avoiding a government shutdown.

Tillis explicitly came out against a shutdown as called for by ex-President Donald Trump if GOP hardliners don't get concessions, such as a closed border and voting restrictions.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., attends a roundtable discussion on border policy at the Regional Center for Border Health in Somerton, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2023.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., attends a roundtable discussion on border policy at the Regional Center for Border Health in Somerton, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2023.

"We must avert a shutdown," Tillis said in a Sept. 27 statement. "That means a bill to fund the government needs to pass in both chambers with bipartisan support."

He voted against a funding bill put forward by Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer because of its lack of more border security additions, making it "dead on arrival," he said, in the House and guaranteeing a shutdown.

"I will only vote for a bill viable in both chambers that will prevent a shutdown, which is why I would vote against the Schumer bill in its current form," the senior senator said.

Edwards, whose 11th District covers most of WNC, said the need to curtail federal spending was "undisputed."

"However, we should not hold hostage the services provided by our federal government, because the people in WNC would be adversely affected," he said.

US Congressman Chuck Edwards.
US Congressman Chuck Edwards.

Despite the anticipation of a shutdown starting Oct. 1, Edwards said the recent debate has led to "monumental progress" and that he expected passage of 12 individual appropriations bills that included Social Security, Medicare and defense. The bills would would include cuts to spending, he said.

On Ukraine aid, Edwards supported the hardliners' desire to cut a proposed $300 million. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "ruthless, cruel dictator" who invaded a neighbor, bombed innocent women and children and must be stopped, he said. But he said the aid has been rubber-stamped and "duplicative" of billions of dollars already sent to Ukraine in recent months.

While not stating his position on a government closure, Budd announced his co-sponsorship of a bill to fund military salaries if it happens.

"Military servicemembers and their families shouldn’t have to worry about putting food on the table in the event of a government shutdown," he said.

Budd talked about contingency plans but did not state his opposition to a government closure in his latest statement, issued Sept. 27.

Budd and the other officials did not answer if they were concerned about federal child nutrition programs or air traffic controllers.

Medicaid expansion delay?

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that Medicaid expansion will launch Dec. 1. North Carolina will become the 40th state in the nation to expand the state-run health insurance program for people with low incomes. Cooper signed the program into law March 27, but a provision in the bill kept the program from going into effect until elected officials in Raleigh passed the 2024 fiscal year budget, and the state's plan was approved by the federal government. Cooper allowed the budget to become law without his signature Sept. 22 after a drawn-out legislative fight.

According to an Associated Press report, Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said they have spoken to federal officials, and a potential government shutdown in Washington should not delay implementation of expanded Medicaid.

NCDHHS spokesperson Hannah Jones reiterated this in a Sept. 27 statement to the Citizen Times.

Federal Courthouse and National Weather Service

Essential services, such as the U.S. District Court of Western North Carolina and the National Weather Service, will continue operating even if a government shutdown happens. Clerk of Court Katie Simon confirmed with the Citizen Times Sept. 28 that a shutdown won’t affect the federal court, located in downtown Asheville, or any of its employees.

“The work of the federal courts is essential to the administration of justice,” Chief Judge Martin Reidinger said. “Even if Congress shuts down some other portions of the government, the court does not shut down.”

Likewise, the day-to-day operational work of the NWS and its weather services offices will continue – including forecasts, warnings and critical functions such as repairing radars – on its regular schedule, according to spokesperson Sarah Teefey.


N.C. Cooperative Extension, a statewide agricultural research and resources program, would be affected as it works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

County Extension Director Stephen W. Duckett, who manages operations in Buncombe County, said in an email on Sept. 27 that the administration doesn’t expect to see an immediate impact. However, a part of the staff’s salaries is paid with federal funds allocated through North Carolina State University, so a long-term impact may be a furlough.

Western North Carolina and other U.S. farmers would be impacted if USDA agencies like the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service are forced to shut down as the agencies “oversee crop insurance, disaster programs, cost share programs for soil and water conservation, and many other programs farmers depend on for day to day operations,” he said.

Farmers scheduled to receive federal payments in early October may see delays as those funds are put on hold, according to the agriculture publication Progressive Farmer.

“As with any shutdown, the longer it lasts the more severe the impacts on farmers and agribusiness,” Duckett said.

For more information, visit and

Food banks

MANNA FoodBank announced its plans to join Feeding America, Feeding the Carolinas, and “thousands of food access partners across the country to call for Congress to avoid a shutdown by swiftly passing legislation to fund the government.”

MANNA stated in a news release that millions of federal workers, active-duty military members and federal contract employees would not receive partial or no paychecks, and the disruption of federal nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC would increase demand for on food banks across the U.S. if there were a government shutdown.

According to MANNA, the food bank and its partners are in an ongoing food supply crisis. The regional organization served more than 167,000 people in WNC with emergency food support in August, which is reporter as 2.5 times more than pre-pandemic monthly averages in 2019.

For more information, visit

Citizen Times reporters Mitch Black, Buncombe County reporter; Joel Burgess, investigations; Will Hofmann, growth and development; Sarah Honosky, Asheville City Government; Tiana Kennell, food and dining; McKenna Leavens, education; and Ryley Ober, public safety; and Hendersonville Times-News Editor Dean Hensley contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: How would federal government shutdown impact Asheville and WNC?