Visits to the National Park UP 7.5% in 2012

Think the economy is having an effect on the Smoky Mountain area? Think again. Officials from the National Park services reported that half-million more visitors toured the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 than in 2011 – a 7.5 percent jump.

Most officials say that the increase is due primarily to the mild weather experienced during the winter and spring months.

In all, by December 31, 2012, 9,685,828 people had come through the park for various recreational purposes like hiking, mountain biking, camping, swimming, etc. As noted, that’s a 7.5 percent boost from 2011, when numbers totaled 9,008,835. It’s also the largest number the Smokies has recorded since 2000 when 10.1 million people visited the park.

Park officials say the mild weather allowed or convinced more people to travel into the park and be outdoors due to the lack of ice and snow on the roads and trails. The mild weather in the shoulder seasons and warm summer set the tone for visitation as every month of 2012 saw an increase of visitors over those recorded in 2011, they add.

December 2012 visits were 480,527 compared with 471,603 as seen in December 2011. There were nearly 2 percent more visitors in December than in the last month of 2011. Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cheorkee, North Carolina, was closed due to ice and snow on all or part of six days during December, but the holiday season brought a large number of visitors to the park during the latter part of the month.

Here’s a breakdown of entrance visitation tallies for 2012:

Gatlinburg: 175,205 visitors

Townsend: 65,156

Cherokee: 111,574

13 Outlying Areas: 128,592

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