January 26, 2011
Nancy Gray, 865_436-1208
During a year of weather extremes, landslides, and major construction projects, Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitation in Calendar Year 2010 pulled through to match 2009 levels. Visitation through the Park's three main entrances and outlying areas in 2010 was 9,463,538, just slightly below 2009, the Park's 75th anniversary year which reported 9,491,436 visits.
At year's end, attendance at all of the Park's entrances except the outlying areas was ahead of 2009. Gatlinburg, Tenn., reflected a 2 percent rise; Townsend, Tenn., recorded a 3 percent gain; and Cherokee, N.C., showed a 5 percent increase. The outlying areas, comprised of 13 lesser-used entrances in North Carolina and Tennessee, tallied a 9 percent decrease.
When compared to 2009 monthly visitation, 2010 started out with decreases during the first three months: January (-6%), February (-28%) and March (-3%). April recorded the first increase of the season (+10%) with succeeding months in May and June reflecting increases (+1 percent, +15 respectively). July entries were flat, August entries dropped (-9 percent), and September reflected no change. While October saw a large increase (+19%), November reflected a large decrease (-12%). December was off significantly by 35 percent.
"A number of anomalies occurred in Park visitation this year that may explain the visitor use patterns we received," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "Extreme weather in 2010 left its mark on Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a cold chilling winter to sweltering heat in summer," he continued. Above average snowfall in the high elevations caused more frequent closures of Newfound Gap Road and other Park roads January through March and then again in December. Both February and December marked record snowfall at Mt. LeConte (6,593 feet), 52 inches and 53 inches, respectively. Then during the summer months, a heat wave hit and the Park recorded a long string of 90-plus temperatures in the low country with August seeing above average highs. For the first time in several years, autumn foliage, attracting hundreds of thousands leaf seekers, peaked on time in October and not in November as in past years which may account for the changes recorded.
"Other occurrences that had both negative and positive influences on Park numbers during the first part of the year were several landslides on primary thoroughfares through the mountains both in and outside the Park," Ditmanson commented. The most significant one was the landslide that closed all lanes on Interstate 40 at the North Carolina and Tennessee border from October 2009 through April 2010. During this impasse, travelers used the Park's Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) as a detour which most likely pushed April visitation up.
Meanwhile, the Park had a large number of major road construction projects which limited access to some Park roads and facilities throughout the year and played a part in altering visitor statistics. For instance, the Outlying Areas tally recorded double digit decreases several months during peak season when two significant secondary entrances were affected by construction on the Foothills Parkway (Cocke County) and Cherokee Orchard Road.
Camping in the Park's 10 developed frontcountry campgrounds reflected a yearly decrease. A total of 310,662 camper nights were recorded, a 2 percent decrease over 2009. Backcountry camper nights were flat totaling 79,480.
For a monthly breakdown of 2010 visitation by Park entrances visit the Park's website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/visitation.htm.