Great Smoky Mountains National Park adds 1 million visitors in 2019 to top previous records
Great Smoky Mountains National Park set yet another attendance record with 12,547,743 visitors in 2019. That's more than 1.1 million additional visits than were recorded the previous year.
The park is already the most-visited in the country, and the new section of the Foothills Parkway scenic drive between Walland and Wears Valley has skyrocketed in popularity with more than 1 million visitors.
“I am very proud of our employees who work hard each day, along with our volunteers and partners, to help provide outstanding visitor experiences and to protect the resources that people come here to enjoy,” said park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With growing visitation, this has become more challenging.
"In 2020, we’ll be inviting people to help us thoughtfully look at how we can improve access and continue caring for this very special place,” he said.
The park’s primary Tennessee entrances near Gatlinburg and Townsend plus North Carolina's entrance at Cherokee all saw increased use, accounting for about two-thirds of the total park visitation. Visiting the national park is free.
The so-called "missing link" of the Foothills Parkway opened in November 2018 and was quickly heralded as one of the most beautiful drives in America.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, included $17.5 million for construction of the Foothills Parkway construction in the 2005 federal highway bill, his office said. Since that time, he worked with his colleagues in Congress to help provide the funding necessary to complete the “missing link” and open it to the public. In 2016, the Tennessee Department of Transportation submitted a grant application for federal funds to complete this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway.
The parkway is considered "one of the prettiest drives in America," Alexander pointed out in a news release from his office. "The scene is so magnificent that it surprises even those of us who have grown up admiring the Smokies."
Among the other 2019 attendance highlights:
Monthly records were set in January, March, April, May, June and December. In both April and May, approximately 1 million people visited.
Before 2015, park visitation had not exceeded 1 million visitors per month until the summer and fall months.
Another traditional shoulder-season month, September, has now exceeded 1 million visitors.
Visitors are more consistently reporting traffic congestion, busy restrooms and over-full parking areas throughout the year. These are some of the issues the park will explore over the next year
The visits were counted by traffic counters (with multipliers to determine the number of passengers) set throughout the park and by tracking bus traffic.
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Sarah Riley
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Published February 7, 2020