Alum Cave Trail Reopens
The major two-year restoration of the Alum Cave Trail was completed in late 2016. The Trails Forever crew targeted locations along the 5-mile trail to improve trail safety and protect natural resources by repairing historic cable and handrail systems, reinforcing hanging trail sections, reducing trail braiding, and improving drainage to prevent further erosion.
On November 28, 2016, a fire burning high in the Great Smoky Mountains (atop Chimney Tops) spread quickly into the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, due to a perfect storm of extremely high winds flowing directly toward the valley that had not seen rain in months - with plenty of dried leaves on the ground. Unfortunately, there were 14 fatalities, 191 injuries and 2,460 structures were damaged or destroyed in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. No historic buildings in the park were damaged. Fortunately, many of the trees and most of the wildlife survived the fire. No fires were reported on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many other fires burned in western North Carolina with little long term damage. Read more.
11.3 Million Visitors in 2016
Great Smoky Mountains National Park had a record 11,312,785 people visiting in 2016, a 5.6% increase over 2015. It was quite the year with NPS Centennial celebrations and the horrible Chimney Tops wildfire. During 2016, 2,230 park volunteers donated 117,000 hours of service, including trail maintenance, invasive plant removal, and providing visitor information. Front country camping at the park’s developed campgrounds increased to 327,033 campers, up 3.1% over 2015. Backcountry camping also increased with 109,344 visitors spending a night at one of the park’s backcountry campsites or shelters, up 12% from 2015. Read more about exploring the outdoors in the Smokies, including hiking and camping.
Park Changes Firewood Regulations to Protect Forests
Beginning in March 2015, only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and displays a certification stamp by the USDA or a state department of agriculture will be allowed for use in park campgrounds. Heat-treated firewood will be available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from private businesses in the communities around the park. Certified heat-treated firewood is packaged in 0.75 cu-ft. bundles clearly displaying a certification stamp. The wood is a high-quality hardwood product that has been heated for 60 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The wood lights easily, burns well for campfires, is safe to cook over, and is already available at over 85 locations near the park. In addition, visitors may still collect dead and down wood in the park for campfires. Non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases can unknowingly be introduced through firewood transported from infested areas. A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. These insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate over 30 species of hardwood trees native to the park. New infestations threaten our forests with widespread tree mortality that could devastate wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and scenic views. The use of firewood that has been heat treated eliminates the threat posed by these pests through the movement and use of wood in campfires.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park implemented changes to its backcountry reservation and permitting process, collecting fees for use of the Park’s backcountry campsites and shelters. The changes include a $4 per person per night fee for backcountry camping. The fee will be used to provide increased customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations, permits and the backcountry experience. An online reservation and permit system allows backcountry campers to make reservations and obtain permits. Reservations may be made at any time up to 30 days in advance, allowing maximum flexibility for those making last minute plans. Backcountry users are longer be required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations. Reservation and permit requests are also accepted in person at the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg. Backcountry Office hours have been expanded with additional staff available to provide trip planning assistance both over the phone and in person. In addition, Park Rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry provide enhanced enforcement for issues such as wildlife violations and food storage.
Get Road Updates Via Twitter
Receive status updates of the road closures that change frequently with weather conditions via Twitter at http://twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps. Anyone can access it at any time, without having to establish a Twitter account. Information on all of the roads in the Park as well as other Park information may be obtained by calling the park’s information line at (865) 436-1200 and following the prompts.