January 27, 2017
by Julie Dodd
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park set a record for attendance in 2016 and was the most-visited national park in the country.
A record 11,312,785 people visited the park, a 5.6 percent increase over 2015. National Park attendance across the country was increased in 2016 by the celebration of the National Park Centennial.
“I continue to be inspired by the number of people enjoying the park, but more importantly, I am moved by their unwavering support and care for this special place,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
Front country camping in the park’s developed campground increased to 327,033 campers, up 3.1 percent from 2015. Background camping also increased with 109,344 campers spending a night at one of the park’s backcountry campsites or shelters, up 12 percent from 2015.
A question often asked is: “How does the park service count the visitors?” The National Park Service uses a lot of different ways to tally the number of park visitors, not just in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park but other parks. The park has loop traffic counters on every park road that brings visitors into the park. The traffic counters record each vehicle that comes into the park on a daily basis and multiplies it by a factor of either 2.81 persons per vehicle for May through October or 2.5 persons per vehicle for November through April. Correction factors are included in the equation to account for bus traffic and administrative traffic by employees. The multipliers/factors are determined by actual surveys and physical counts that are done every 4 to 5 years by the Socio-Economic Studies Division of the National Park Service.
As the most-visited park in the country, the Smokies often passes major milestones. Annual visitation has surpassed 10 million in 1987, 1999, 2000, 2014, 2015, and now 2016. This year also broke records for monthly visitation in January, March, April, May, June, September, and November. While July is normally the park’s busiest month, this year was the first time in park history that October (1,466,584) surpassed July (1,464,456).
More than 2,200 people completed the Smokies Centennial Hike 100 Challenge by hiking 100 miles of park trails. Superintendent Cash made the challenge and led several hikes himself. The Hike 100 Challenge celebration that was scheduled for December was cancelled as a result of the wildfires in November. The park service is mailing Hike 100 pins for those who completed the challenge.
Also in 2016, more than 2,230 park volunteers donated more than 117,000 hours of service. The volunteers provided trail maintenance and invasive plant removal and offered visitor information along trails, at visitor centers, and in campgrounds.
The group photo at the top of this post are hikers associated with Stones River National Battlefield Class of 2016 program, joined Superintendent Cash on on a hike along the Appalachian Trail, out to Charlies Bunion. Superintendent Cash is on the far right of the third row. NPS photo