Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway generated more than $1 billion and supported almost 16,000 jobs in nearby communities in 2011, but those benefits are sure to suffer with federal budget cuts known as sequestration forcing portions of both to stay closed this year. The National Park Service’s annual budget of $3 billion was trimmed 5%, including a $944,000 reduction at Great Smoky Mountains to $17.5 million, requiring a hiring freeze that means 10 of 200 permanent positions will go unfilled and seasonal hires, typically 150, will drop by nine. Fewer roads and trails will be maintained, and it will take longer to respond to emergencies. The parkway’s budget has been cut by $784,000 to $14.9 million, delaying the opening of some sites five to six weeks to mid-May and eliminating 21 programs. “It’s hard to predict how that will affect people’s plans,” says Tom Hardy, executive director of nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Association Inc. in Asheville. “I am concerned about the visitors’ experience when they get here.”
ETOWAH — Asheville-based real-estate investment firm Hi-Alta Investments purchased Etowah Valley Golf Club & Lodge for an undisclosed amount. The deal includes a 27-hole golf course and 75-unit lodge. The club was in danger of closing after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
BOONE — Appalachian State University’s athletic programs will move to the Sun Belt Conference, effective July 2014. Its football team will play in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, the organization’s highest level of competition.
CLYDE — MedWest Health System hired Portland, Maine-based Stroudwater Associates to study its strategic direction. The system was formed in 2010 as an affiliation of three hospitals, but two of them voted last year to dissolve the partnership.
CASHIERS — Dallas-based Marlin Atlantis Group bought Bear Lake Reserve, a 2,100-acre planned community, from Terramesa Resort Properties for an undisclosed amount. The acquistion includes 530 developed and undeveloped home sites, a nine-hole golf course and a marina.
WAYNESVILLE — Haywood County commissioners voted to increase the county’s lodging tax from 4% to 6%. If approved by the General Assembly, the additional $450,000 raised annually would go to tourism-related projects.