The national park had been closed since Oct. 1 when the federal government partially shut down because Congress failed to come to an agreement on a budget.
Republicans used the budget battle as a way to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, and accused Democrats of being unwilling to negotiate.
Democrats defended the healthcare law and accused Republicans of shutting down the government because they oppose the law.
Though the partial government shutdown closed national parks and monuments and furloughed thousands of federal employees, other government services like the United States Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service and the scandal-ridden National Security Agency continued to function.
Drew Adams, a retired high school teacher who lives in Marietta, came to the park with his family Thursday to see “Kennesaw: One Last Mountain,” a film that premiered at the Strand Theatre last month and is now being shown in the park’s welcome center. The welcome center was closed during the shutdown.
Parking lots had been mostly empty around the mountain during the closure, but Adams said he did spot a few people who made their way into the park.
“It’s kind of interesting how people still parked and used the trails,” he said.
Some parking areas around the mountain are operated by Cobb County, instead of the National Parks Service, and were not closed during the shutdown.
Adams rides his bicycle near the park and hikes the mountain often. He’s glad to see it’s re-opened and says the parts of the government that citizens like were selected to bear the brunt of the shutdown.
“To me, it seems like the parts of the government, like national parks, are what got hurt,” he said.
Other less popular agencies didn’t seem to skip a beat.
The Obama administration selected what parts of the government would be shut down during the impasse.
Michael Hitt of Roswell also made his way to the park on Thursday to conduct historical research. He’s developed friendships with employees of the park and realizes that they weren’t to blame for the closure.
“I’m just glad they’re back,” Hitt said.
Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar said employees were back in their routines on Thursday.
“For us, it’s very much back to our normal way of doing business,” Winegar said. “For the rest of the staff, I think they’re excited to get back to work. It’s all smiling faces. Everything is pretty much where it was when they left it.”
Winegar said the park’s four employees who remained at work during the shutdown without pay have been promised that they will be paid. Those who were furloughed Oct. 1 through Oct. 16 will also be paid for the time they did not work, according to the budget deal reached late Wednesday.
Employees at the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area were working on Thursday to get the park, also closed due to the shutdown, open again.
“Our goal is to have all areas of the park open by (6 p.m. on Thursday),” said Scott Pfeninger, acting superintendent.
“Today is the first day park staff have been back in some of these areas, so we will be checking for any safety hazards. If we find trees down or other unsafe conditions, we may delay opening some sites until those are cleared up.”
Congressional Republicans at odds
The vote to re-open the government and avoid a national default pitted Georgia’s Republicans against each other.
Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted for the bill that gave no concessions to tea party Republicans who demanded a budget that defunded Obamacare. The Democrat-controlled Senate weighed in first with a bipartisan 81-18 vote.
All of Georgia’s Republicans in the U.S. House voted against re-opening the government. It was a 285-144 vote in the House that put the government back to work.
“Finding positive solutions to those challenges is what the American people elected us to do,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell). “That there’s now an agreement in place to talk about how we solve them is a good first step, but one has to wonder why the Democrat majority in Washington needed two weeks of a government shutdown and a run-up to the debt ceiling in order to agree to talk about doing their job.”
The agreement passed is just a temporary truce and will send lawmakers back to the negotiating table early next winter.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) maintains it’s not over.
“There may have been some disagreements over strategy, but Republicans are united when it comes to fighting President Obama’s and Senate Democrats’ liberal tax-and-spend policies, blocking tax increases and eliminating government interference into our everyday lives—whether it be exam rooms, board rooms, or family rooms,” Gingrey said.