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Shutdown keeping tourists away from Rutherford County battlefield

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MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -

It's the most visited attraction in Rutherford County, bringing in more than a quarter of a million visitors a year. But because of the government shutdown, visitors of the Stones River National Battlefield have been locked out.

Chamber officials said this could cause a trickle down effect on businesses and restaurants, but they are still trying to calculate the economic impact shutdown will have on the county.

U.S. Park Ranger Jim Lewis is a walking history book.

"We're the site of one of the most important and bloodiest battles of the Civil War," Lewis said.

But for two weeks, he's kept his knowledge of the Battle of Murfreesboro bottled up inside.

"If I don't give a tour soon, I'm going to explode," he said.

The Stones River National Battlefield draws nearly 260,000 people a year, making it the county's largest visitor's attraction.

"We signed up to do this job to share the resources with the people, and not being able to do that goes against the grain," Lewis said.

In downtown Murfreesboro, most restaurants and businesses are still attracting their locals and say they haven't seen much of a decline. However, at least one restaurant worker said during the first week of the shutdown there was a slump in out-of-town patrons.

Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce officials said they will not know the impact the government shutdown had on park visitors in mid-November.

"If visitors are planning to come to one particular attraction, and they find out it's closed, and then decided not to make the trip at all, it obviously does have an effect," said Nicky Reynolds, Convention and Visitor's Bureau vice president. "Especially if they are spending money on souvenirs, eating out or even staying in one of our accommodations."

Park officials said on the first day of the shutdown there was a couple who traveled from Brazil to see the piece of history.

"Those folks are probably never going to be able to come back and see this park," Lewis said. "We helped them out and gave them some of the other options, so you know they were very disappointed."

But chamber officials said, most importantly, Rutherford County is still open for business.

"There are a lot of things that we have here to do," Reynolds said. "We are very sad that the Stones River National Battlefield is closed, but please come out to the Oaklands, Sam Davis Home, Discovery Center, Cannonsburg and all the other things we have to do."

A group of Middle Tennessee State University students held a protest outside the national battlefield last Saturday and said if the shutdown is not resolved by this Saturday, they will hold a much larger protest in hopes of getting lawmakers' attention.

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