An Irish American innkeeper defied the federal government on Friday by reopening his privately-run lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Pisgah Inn, which is in a leased building on federal land, was forced by the federal government to shut down at 6 p.m. ET Thursday during the height of the fall tourism season.
At noon on Friday, owner Bruce O'Connell reopened his restaurant, gift shop and country store, resulting in a two hour standoff when National Park Service rangers blocked the entrances to the inn.
O'Connell, whose family has operated the inn for 35 years, told USA Today that on Wednesday he decided to rebel against the order to shut down after being inspired by the World War II veterans who reopened their memorial in Washington when barricades blocked the entrances. However, as the Thursday deadline to close approached, he backed down. After thinking about it all night, he decided to reopen on Friday.
"Conscience, conviction. That's about it," said O'Connell.
The 51-room inn, which is normally open from April 1 to Oct. 31, is the only place for miles along the 469.1-mile mountain route to sleep, grab something to eat, or go to the bathroom. The inn was completely booked for the month of October, and O'Connell said he will send a refund to customers who already paid.
His staff of 100, 35 of whom live on the property, are idled.
"It's conscience and conviction that have taken over me, and I just can't roll over any more," he said.
A handful of guests were able to have lunch before Park Service patrol cars blocked the driveways and began turning customers away.
The inn's diners didn't agree with the move to block access to the inn.
"If they were government employees, they'd get back pay when government re-funded," said Baird Lefter of Waynesville, N.C., who was dining with his wife and a friend, told USA Today. "They are just being shut out of work. And if they haven't closed the parkway why should they close the concessions?"
Any proposal to pay federal workers for time off during the shutdown wouldn't apply to employees at the inn, which is private.
Steve Stinnett, the parkway's chief ranger said that Park Service managers in Washington told him to block access to the inn and ensure "people don't utilize a business that, according to the federal government, is closed."
Said O'Connell: "Right now, it appears we have reached a point where we have to acquiesce, but it doesn't mean tomorrow something might change."
He said his defiance was about much more than a loss of revenue.
"It's about the visitors. It's about the staff and employees who are now having to move off the mountain — they live here — with no notice. They have no jobs. That's the concern.