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Great Smoky Mountains Park to reopen for 5 days

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will reopen for five days during the busy fall tourism season with the help of money from both Tennessee and North Carolina, officials say.
    
The park, which straddles the border of the two states, will reopen Wednesday through Sunday. Like other national parks, it had been closed because of the partial federal government shutdown.
    
Tennessee is giving $300,500 to open the park, while North Carolina is contributing $75,000, the governors of the two states said Tuesday.
    
Tennessee's $300,500 share is officially being paid by Sevier County, home of heavily visited tourist attractions like Pigeon Forge, Dollywood and Gatlinburg, though 80 percent of that amount will come from the state in the form of a tourism grant.  The rest will come from Sevier and Blount counties.
    
"The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year," Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in a release. "I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week."
    
North Carolina's share is coming from tourism advertising dollars, Gov. Pat McCrory said.
    
"Many North Carolina communities depend on tourism generated by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," McCrory said in a release. "It's critical that we get the gates reopened during the fall season."
    
McCrory said he's exploring options to open other national parks in his state.
    
Earlier Tuesday, Haslam couldn't say why it had taken so long for a deal on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to materialize, when other prominent parks such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Statue of Liberty in New York had already reopened with the help of state money.
    
"I can't explain that," Haslam told reporters after a speech in Murfreesboro. "I wish I knew. We've been working hard with the Park Service since this first became apparent. I don't know why we didn't get more communication back."
    
Haslam said earlier this week that a tentative arrangement to reopen the park for the weekend came too late Friday for the state to wire money to the federal government.
    
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country's most visited national park with 9.6 million visitors in 2012.
    
Mike Litterst, acting chief spokesman for the National Park Service, cofirmed in an email to AP that an agreement "for five days only" to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was struck by the park service with Tennessee.
    
Asked about North Carolina's report of involvement, Litterst wrote that he was unable to confirm that participatoin "by what is in the formal agreement" but said North Carolina's governor would have to be consulted for details from that state.

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