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Great Smoky Mountains National Park needs volunteers to manage crowds

Knoxville WVLT-TV logo Knoxville WVLT-TV 1/12/2021 Kyle Grainger
a tree with a mountain in the background: Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Provided by Knoxville WVLT-TV Great Smoky Mountains National Park

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Growth comes with excitement but problems too. Now officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park said they’ve got so many people visiting they need volunteers to manage the crowds.

Park records show from June to November, each month saw more than one million people in the Great Smoky Mountains. This indicates a record-breaking year.

“Visitation numbers like this on the rise, it can be inspiring, but it’s also daunting, and it presents some very real challenges,” said Dana Soehn, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Those problems have limited access for visitors, lots of traffic and parking issues which has led to areas of damage. Soehn says even areas that are normally quiet and aren’t used as much have been packed.

“These places are experiencing a high level of visitation. And the parking lots and the infrastructure and the trails themselves really weren’t designed for that level of visitation,” said Soehn. “We’ve seen extreme roadside damage across the park from out of bounds parking and that creates an unsafe environment for these hikers who are walking to these trailheads.”

The park service is asking for volunteers to commit four hours a week to work in the highest traffic areas. They hope this will give them information on what’s going on to develop ways to manage ever-growing crowds.

Rangers say they are talking to people who’ve visited the park from all over, wanting to know about their experience and how they can make it better.

Volunteers will be trained virtually and know what to look for to help the park service in these areas of high congestion.

Interested volunteers should email Kendra Straub, Management and Program Analyst, at Kendra_straub@nps.gov.

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