People protest Pisgah Inn’s closure

Oct. 5, 2013   |  
Pisgah Inn defies government shutdown: Park service police blocked the entrance of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkwayon Friday after the company that runs the government-owned facility defied the shutdown order. 10-04-2013, Jon Ostendorff
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Pisgah Inn general manager Rob Miller and server Hannah Warfield outside of the Inn on Thursday evening. The Inn agreed to close it’s doors due to the government shutdown after initially declining to do so. 10/03/13ÑDillon Deaton / Dillon Deaton
WAYNESVILLE — About 30 people gathered on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday to protest was they said was the unfairness of a decision to close the privately operated Pisgah Inn as part of the shutdown of the federal government.
Jane Bilello, chair of the Asheville Tea Party and organizer of the protest outside the inn southwest of Asheville, said closing it makes no sense even though the government owns the facility and the land it sits on.
“We don’t want this business shut down,” Bilello said. “It’s just not right. This is just political grandstanding as far as we’re concerned.”
National Park Service rangers blocked the entrances to the inn Friday to end a showdown over the federal shutdown that started when the business opened for lunch against government orders.
Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett said park service managers in Washington directed him to block access to the inn and ensure “people don’t utilize a business that, according to the federal government, is closed.”
The 470-mile federal road that winds through the North Carolina and Virginia mountains remains open to traffic but National Park Service visitor centers, campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms are shuttered because of the budget dispute on Capitol Hill.
Pisgah Inn owner Bruce O’Connell, who leases the building from the government, initially said he would defy the Thursday deadline to shut down, then decided to close, then decided to open his 35-year-old business for lunch anyway. The park service warned he was violating his contract, O’Connell said.
Greg Walter, of Jackson County, held up a sign Saturday for passing motorists that read: “A president who deliberately harms the people must be impeached.”
Walter said he believes the closing of the inn is illegal.
“The sheriff of this county should come up here and take authority,” he said.
Richard Doster, an Arden retiree and tea party member, called the closing of the inn “vindictive,” but said he’s in favor of the government shutdown.
“That was the only way to bring about negotiations on Obamacare,” he said.
Dana Soehn, spokeswoman for the Park Service, said she understands the frustration over the inn’s closure.
“We have some disappointed visitors and guests that Pisgah Inn has been closed,” she said. “But this is a federally owned facility run by the concessionaire. All federally owned facilities were closed as part of the shutdown.
“We understand people want to express their disappointment. Our job is to protect the facility and the resources.”
A handful of guests had lunch at in the inn Friday before Park Service police blocked the driveways to the inn with patrol cars and orange flashing lights. They turned customers away, saying the government was closed.
The 51-room inn was booked solid for October. O’Connell said he plans to refund his customers though many planned vacations to see the fall colors months in advance.
His 100 employees, 35 of which live on the property, are idled.
Another privately run inn operating on leased federal land along the parkway — the Peaks of Otter Lodge near Bedford, Va. — closed on Thursday.
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