For several years, Wednesday and Saturday mornings during the summer have been offered as vehicle-free periods so that cyclists and pedestrians can better experience the area. However, congested parking areas and disruption of visitor services associated with this schedule prompted the park to propose the study.
In total, 2,278 people from 37 states submitted comments on the proposal. More than 60 percent supported the trial change, and 20 percent opposed it. About 15 percent said they would like to see Sunday morning closures continue but also supported a full-day closure on Wednesday.
Some respondents expressed additional concerns as well, with 8 percent asking the park to consider a shuttle operation, 4 percent noting concerns about limiting access for people with disabilities on vehicle-free days and various others providing suggestions about congestion, safety and descendent access.
Over the last 25 years, use has continued to increase with up to 1,100 people a day cycling or walking along the roadway during the three-hour closures. This has resulted in congestion, lack of parking and disruption in campground and picnic area operations. During the morning closures, access to the campground, picnic area, horse concession operation, campground store and hiking/equestrian trails is blocked due to cyclist and pedestrian parking needs. Traffic leading to the Cades Cove area is often gridlocked by a line of motorists waiting for the Loop Road to open at 10:00 a.m.
Closing the roadway for the entire day will give bicyclists and pedestrians more than 12 hours of daylight to use the Loop Road without vehicles, and spreading use throughout the day is expected to improve the parking situation. By eliminating the Saturday morning closures, more motorists will have access during the busiest day of the week, and park staff and volunteers will be able to better support visitor programs on Wednesdays and Saturdays instead of devoting all personnel to traffic management and parking.
Park management will evaluate results of the pilot study to inform future actions. Vehicles will be able to access the area seven days per week October through April, and people with disabilities are invited to use mobility-assisted devices on the road during vehicle-free days. Visitors who need accommodations to safely access Cades Cove on vehicle-free days should call 865.448.4105 in advance of their visit.