Near MOUNT PISGAH, N.C. — A day after preparing to close for the rest of the season, workers at the Pisgah Inn were back on the job, and the inn's owner claimed victory in his showdown over the federal shutdown.
Inn owner Bruce O'Connell said Wednesday the Interior Department of Interior agreed to let him reopen his lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in exchange for dropping a legal complaint he had filed.
The government owns the building and land. O'Connell leases it, and his family has run the inn at milepost 408.6 about 25 miles southwest of Asheville, N.C., since 1978.
Park Service rangers had blocked the 51-room inn's driveways since Friday when O'Connell defied the shutdown order that has left other park concessionaires closed across the USA. The parkway itself remains open to travelers. Rangers turned customers away at the inn's entrances.
O'Connell said he has heard from thousands of people since making his stand. His story caught fire on social media with tweets and Facebook posts decrying the government's move to close the business. He said the support has been humbling.
"I've heard from liberals, and I've heard from conservatives," he said. "I've heard all of them, from everybody. They all have said the same thing, every one of them: Don't give up. Fight tyranny. That tells me that if someone threw a match in the middle of the country it would explode right now."
The inn's workers, who have lost almost a week of income during a peak tourism month, were glad to be back at work Wednesday.
Customers stopped longtime server Dennis Rimides as he walked to the dining room through the parking lot. They all wanted to know what had happened.
"What wonderful news," one woman said when he told her the inn was open again.
The inn will stay open until Nov. 1, its normal closing date, no matter what continues to happen — or not happen — in Washington.
"It feels as good as an opening day if not better," Rimides said.
The uncertainly of the past five days was wearing on the staff, he said. The inn employs about 100 people, and 35 live on the property.
Gay Huff of Jackson, Miss., and her husband, Perry, stopped as they traveled up the parkway from Cherokee, N.C., where they were staying. They were not aware the inn had been closed but said they have been disappointed with the shuttering of the nation's parks. Cherokee is one of the gateways to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also closed in the shutdown.
"For any of it to be denied to the general public turns me inside out," she said. "It is a personal violation that is hard for me to contain or even express."
Florida resident Kenneth Davis showed up in mid-afternoon wanting a piece of the inn's French silk pie for his wife's birthday.
The dining room wasn't open yet, but inn manager Rob Miller walked back to the kitchen and got him one for free. Everything reopened at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Davis also doesn't like the shutdown's closure of the parks.
"I think it's being carried a little bit too far," he said. "They need to get their act together and get things straightened out."
Unlike national parks with gates and entrance fees, the Blue Ridge Parkway — and other federal parkways including Natchez Trace in Mississippi and Tennessee, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway in Wyoming and George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia — is not closed to traffic. But National Park Service visitor centers, historic sites, campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms along the route are shut down.
That includes the only other privately run inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Peaks of Otter Lodge at milepost 86 near Bedford, Va. It closed at 6 p.m. Thursday as ordered and has been telling guests with paid reservations that they will get refunds if they are unable to change their reservations.
General Manager Robert Peters of the Peaks of Otter Lodge was watching the situation with the Pisgah Inn closely Wednesday.
"I'm glad that they can re-open. We're in a holding pattern," he said, waiting word from National Park Service officials and his bosses at Delaware North Cos., which manage several properties for the Park Service. "We'd love to be open, too."
Normally, 88 people work at Peaks of Otter, which has a lodge, restaurant, country store and a shuttle bus with tours to the top of Sharp Top Mountain.
"We were sold out every weekend. The weekdays were filling up," Peters said. "We were fully staffed and ready to go. Unfortunately, with the shutdown, it kind of halted everything."
The lodge had planned to operate through Dec. 1.
If Pisgah Inn can operate, Peters said he hopes Peaks of Otter Lodge can reopen soon as well.
Contributing: Julie Ball, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times; Linda Dono, USA TODAY. Jon Ostendorff also reports for the Asheville Citizen-Times.