SUBMITTED By NANCY GREY
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
In 2009 during the Park’s 75th Anniversary celebration, Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw the largest number of visitors in almost a decade and recorded a 5 percent gain over 2008 visitation. Despite unrelenting rains and an economic slump, the Park received 9,491,436 visitors through its three main entrances and outlying areas in Calendar Year 2009.
“The anniversary proved to be an excellent opportunity to showcase the beauty, the history, and the diverse resources of the Smokies,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “Several major events in and around the Park and the extensive publicity generated by the anniversary helped to bolster travel to this area.” He continued, “We were extremely pleased with this year’s success and the occasion it presented to partner with our tourism neighbors to offer visitors exceptional educational, recreational, and memorable experiences at the Park and communities during this historic year.”
At year’s end, attendance at all of the Park’s entrances–three main entrances and outlying areas–was ahead of 2008. Gatlinburg, Tenn., reflected a 6 percent rise; Townsend, Tenn., recorded a 4 percent gain; and Cherokee, N.C., showed a 4 percent increase. The outlying areas, a combination of 10-plus lesser-used entrances in North Carolina and Tennessee, tallied a 4 percent increase.
Ditmanson commented further that “While a good part of 2009’s travel was due to a rewarding anniversary celebration, the rise in entries noted the last two months of the year were most likely driven by motorists who sought an alternative route through the Park along Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) due to a rockslide that closed Interstate 40 at the North Carolina/Tennessee border on October 25.”
Only four months of declines occurred throughout 2009. The year started out flat in January and then recorded decreases in February (-2%) and March (-6%). April saw the largest increase of the year at 23 percent with succeeding months in May, June, and July reflecting increases (+1 percent, +11, and +12 percent respectively). August saw a 1 percent decline, September was up 3 percent, and October fell 4 percent. Following the I-40 shutdown, November visits were up 9 percent; and December entries rose by 10 percent, even though Newfound Gap Road and other roads were closed intermittently on several occasions over the busy holiday period due to ice, snow, and felled trees on the roadways.
Another noteworthy trend in 2009 was record precipitation measured at the highest elevations, a turnaround from the 2007 and 2008 drought period. At the beginning of 2009, monthly precipitation continued below average, but starting in late spring, monthly totals were consistently above normal.
Annual precipitation recorded at Mt. LeConte (6,491 feet) measured a record 104.3 inches (since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1988), and 20.45 inches above normal. At the Elkmont weather station (2,100 feet), a total of 74.3 inches of rain was recorded. Although not a
record, 13.65 inches fell more than normal.
Regardless of the rain, both frontcountry and backcountry camping reflected yearly increases. In the Park’s 10 developed campgrounds, a total of 310,662 camper nights were recorded, a 9 percent increase over 2008. Backcountry camper nights were up 11 percent totaling 79,182.
For a monthly breakdown of 2009 visitation by Park entrances visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm and search Management/Park Statistics.