The economy and high gas prices last summer led to slightly fewer visitors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year.
The park saw 9.04 million visitors last year, a drop of 4 percent compared to the 9.37 million visitors logged in 2007. The park has counters across the road at every entrance to the park.
The number entering the park through the main North Carolina entrance along U.S. 441 outside Cherokee dropped by 11 percent, while entrances on the Tennessee side saw only a 5 or 6 percent drop. The higher drop on the N.C. side could be attributed to a drop in business at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, just a short distance from the park’s main entrance. A jaunt into the park is a popular excursion for casino visitors.
While the main entrances were consistently down, the outlying areas were up.
Not surprisingly, camping at park campgrounds was down by 12 percent. High gas prices last year put a dent in travel by those towing campers and driving RV’s, which consume lots of gas.
Backcountry camping, however, was up about 2 percent. Approximately 72,381 camper nights were reported in 2008 compared with 70,215 in 2007.
Economic impact studies show that park visitors spend hundreds of millions in surrounding gateway communities.
“The economic advantages derived from visitors to this area are important, but the national park is much more than an economic engine,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “The park is a special place that preserves a piece of our nation’s heritage and some of the world’s most remarkable natural resources for people to enjoy. It’s a gift that keeps on giving”.