Visitation Down Only 5% in Smokies
With gas prices setting record highs this summer, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park says visitation is down 5% at its main entrances.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is down 5.4% with 9.3 million visitors so far this year.
Businesses that rely on park tourists are seeing fewer customers, according to the Ashville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.
At the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center, general manger Teresa Smith said visitors have taken a wait-and-see attitude this year. Her 102-room hotel had only 18 reservations the week before the crucial Labor Day weekend. It ended up with 60 rooms booked. The increase came from walk-in customers, something she says she has seen more of this year than in summers past.
“They are waiting to see what the weather is going to do, what the gas prices are going to do, before the make their plans,” she said.
The Smokies also has registered an interesting trend amid the decreasing visitation.
The park had once been the most visited in the country with 10 million people in 2000. The visitors were generating $650 million a year for businesses in towns surrounding the park.
Visitation declined after 2001 with the economic fallout from the terrorism attacks.
It picked back up in 2006 with 9.4 million visitors, despite gas being at a record high of $3 a gallon.
This year, through July, the park has had 4.9 million visitors – a 5% drop from the same time last year.
But away from its main entrances, in places like Cataloochee Valley, and Deep Creek, the park has seen a 3% increase.
Park Ranger Nancy Gray says that could be because high gas prices are keeping locals closer to home. And that, she said, is a positive development for the park.
“People living nearby are really using this wonderful resource that they have,” she said.
That trend is evident back in the park-run Cataloochee Valley campground. Most people on Sept. 5 were from nearby Haywood County, N.C., or not too far from that.
Carole Adams and her husband, Wayne, made the drive from Mars Hill, north of Asheville. Other than the Goodmans, theirs was one of the longest trips taken by people staying in the campground, according to the newspaper’s survey.
They pulled a pop-up camper with a full-sized Ford pickup for 65 miles.
The couple makes the trip a few times a year so that Wayne Adams can ride at the horse camp.
“You gotta keep doing things,” he said. “I have just decided that if it costs 40 bucks to drive over here, so be it. At $17 a night you can’t stay anywhere else that cheap. And it is the quietest camp we have ever camped in.
“You get a little traffic through here, but at night you can hear everything, the water, the frogs, whatever is going on in the woods.”