A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that over 9 million visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013 spent $734 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 10,734 jobs in the local area.
The 2013 economic benefit figures are slightly lower than the 2012 results which reported that visitors spent $741 million in local communities. The 16-day government shutdown in October 2013 accounted for most of the decline in park visitation and spending. The authors also cited inflation adjustments for differences between visitation and visitor spending, jobs supported, and overall effect on the U.S. economy.
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.6 billion of direct spending by 273.6 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.
This spending supported more than 237,000 jobs nationally, with more than 197,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion.
According to the 2013 economic analysis, nationally most visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent) and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent). The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).
The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the nation.
Raleigh, N.C. – Governor Pat McCrory announced Wednesday that the North Carolina tourism industry generated record visitor spending in 2013. The $20.2 billion in domestic visitor spending represents a 4.1 percent increase over 2012.
“The growth of our tourism industry gives us a lot to celebrate,”Governor McCrory said. “We attracted 52.5 million travelers from across the United States last year because of our great tourist destinations.The money they spent while visiting our mountains, beaches, cities and places in between directly supported nearly 200,000 jobs and more than 40,000 businesses. We can be proud that the quality of North Carolina’s travel experiences makes us the sixth most visited state in the nation.”
Governor McCrory, who proclaimed May 3-11, 2014, as Tourism Week in North Carolina, will discuss the new figures from the U.S. Travel Association at a news conference on Thursday, May 8 at the Outer Banks. Preliminary results from the study show that direct tourism employment grew 2.1 percent and that state tax receipts as a result of visitor spending rose 4 percent to top $1 billion. Visitors spent more than $55 million per day in North Carolina last year and contributed more than $4.4 million per day in state and local tax revenues as a result of that spending.
“Everyone in North Carolina can feel the benefits of the tourism industry’s success,” Secretary Decker said. “Tourism means jobs in all of the state’s 100 counties. In addition, each North Carolina household saves $435 annually in state and local taxes as a result of taxes generated by visitor expenditures.”
Tourism Week in North Carolina is part of National Travel & Tourism Week, which also runs May 3-11. The state’s nine Welcome Centers will host activities throughout the week.
Domestic travelers spent a record $20.2 billion in 2013, up from $19.4 billion in 2012. That’s an increase of 4.1 percent.
In 2013, total visitor volume was 52.5 million, up nearly 16 percent from 2012. North Carolina is the sixth most visited state for domestic travel.
North Carolina’s domestic market share increased from 4 percent to 4.3 percent.
For every $1 invested by the Division of Tourism in paid media advertising, North Carolina receives $191 in new visitor spending, $10.31 in new state taxes and $6.25 in new local taxes. This is nearly a 17-to-1 return on investment of tax dollars.
For every $1 invested by the Division of Tourism is paid media advertising, one trip is generated to the state.
More than 40,000 businesses in North Carolina directly provide products and services to travelers, with travelers directly contributing more than 25 percent to their total products and services.
Visitors to North Carolina generated more than $3 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2013.
State tax receipts as a result of visitor spending passed the $1 billion mark in 2013. The figure represents 4 percent in growth over 2012’s $970 million.
Local tax receipts from visitor spending grew 3.1 percent to $597.3 million.
Direct tourism employment in North Carolina increased nearly 2.1 percent, to 197,700. The majority of the growth was in lodging, transportation, food service and retail employment.
Direct tourism payroll increased 3.8 percent to $4.6 billion.
Visitors spend more than $55 million per day in North Carolina. That spending adds more than $4.4 million per day to state and local tax revenues (about $2.8 million in state taxes and $1.6 million in local taxes).
Each North Carolina household saves $435 in state and local taxes as a direct result of visitor spending in the state.
– See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140507/governor-mccrory-celebrates-record-visitor-spending-and-impact#sthash.nBgrGXaE.dpuf
Executive Director Terry Maddox with Great Smoky Mountains Association announced this past week that an anonymous donor has named the non-profit organization as the recipient of one of the largest cash donations given in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “I have unprecedented news to share with you,” Maddox wrote in an email to the GSMA board of directors. “I was approached recently by a long-time GSMA member who wished to make a designated gift to GSMA. The total amount of the donation is $2,185,000.” According to a memorandum of understanding between GSMA and the donor, the funds are contingent on two stipulations. First, the donation is to be applied to the existing Oconaluftee Visitor Center loan and a new loan secured by GSMA to assist in the construction of the Collections Preservation Center. Secondly, Maddox said, the identity of the donor must not be disclosed to anyone other than GSMA’s executive director. “I agreed to these conditions without hesitation,” Maddox told board members. The donation will be made in five annual installments between April 2014 and 2018. “GSMA can now dramatically accelerate the pay-down of our line of credit and begin building a previously-approved future projects fund,” he said. The motivation to make a charitable gift of any size is often rooted in the donor’s belief in and love of a cause or place with which he or she feels an emotional connection. That is certainly the case with this donor, Maddox said.“I am overwhelmed by gratitude to this selfless donor whose generosity reflects a deep and abiding love for the Great Smokies,” said William Hart, chairman of GSMA’s board of directors. “This donation will allow GSMA to redouble its efforts to carry out its mission and allow funds that would have formerly been directed to debt to be employed toward the broader aims of the organization. “In effect, this donor leaves a legacy that will positively benefit millions of future visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” he continued. Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies jointly provided the $3.7 million required to construct the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C., which opened to the public in April 2011. The facility fulfilled the National Park Service wish to replace an old CCC structure that was intended only to be a ranger station and replace it with a state-of-the-art museum, visitor center and bookstore on the North Carolina side of the park. Just last month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that GSMA would once again be stepping up with Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to financially support construction of the new Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, Tenn., where the National Park Service will care for more than 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee. “This donation not only speaks to the genuine care people have for their Smoky Mountains, but also the trust and confidence we all have in our partners at GSMA to continue a 60-year tradition of supporting the park in meaningful ways well into the future,” said Pedro Ramos, acting superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. GSMA experienced one of its most financially trying years ever in 2013, when a major road washout closed U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road for three months early in the year and a government shutdown prevented it from opening its national park stores for 15 days in October. Even with a record membership recruitment year, these two factors caused the non-profit more than its share of angst. This contribution qualifies as a game changer, according to Lisa Duff, GSMA’s marketing and membership director. “We have always valued the contributions of our members and shared in their enthusiasm for this national park,” Duff said. “While this single gift illustrates the extraordinary generosity of one of our members in rather a large fashion, all who contribute time and money to this national park should count themselves among its greatest supporters.” Since its inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has given more than $31.5 million to support the ongoing educational, scientific and preservation efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Support for the non-profit association is derived primarily from online and visitor center sales of educational products and membership dues. Those who wish to strengthen their Smokies experience are encouraged to join GSMA. For more information about GSMA, visit www.SmokiesInformation.org; or call toll-free 888.898.9102.
Closing the books on one of the organization’s most vexing years in its 61-year history, Great Smoky Mountains Association officials released details this week of its contributions to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 2013. “Aid-to-park for 2013 was $1,524,784, which represents another strong year of support, especially considering the circumstances,” said Executive Director Terry Maddox. He said they experienced a massive rain event that washed out a portion of the main park road in mid-January and kept that important transportation artery closed until April 15. Then, during their organization’s busiest month for sales by far, the federal government shutdown Oct. 1-16 that shuttered all our in-park retail operations.” While most visitors may not realize how often they interact with the many GSMA-supported projects ongoing in the park, Maddox said, visitors time in the park would be less fulfilling if the endeavors of GSMA were not pursued. Since its inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has given nearly $32 million to support the ongoing educational, scientific and preservation efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Kristin Bail, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, today announced that the agency has begun the next phase of revising the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan (the Forest Plan). “We’ve received a large number of comments from the public since the assessment for the Plan began in the fall of 2012, and we’re hoping that trend will continue as we move into the next phase of plan revision,” said Bail. “I encourage anyone interested in the two national forests to submit comments on the Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement by April 28, 2014.” The plan development phase officially began with publication of a Notice of Initiation, which was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 3, 2013. This next phase involves beginning the work on the Environmental Impact Statement that will accompany the development of the revised plan. The public has 45 days to comment on the Notice of Intent, the Preliminary Need for Change and the Proposed Action, which was published in the Federal Register on March 12, 2014. Comments or questions about plan revision can be sent by email to NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us. For those who prefer regular mail, written comments can be mailed to National Forests in North Carolina, Nantahala and Pisgah Plan Revision, 160 Zillicoa St. Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801. The Notice of Intent (NOI) states that the Forest Plan will be revised to address direction within the current management plan that is in need of change. The NOI includes a summary of these preliminarily identified needs for change; a more extensive Preliminary Need For Change document is available on the plan revision website. Comments submitted by the public over the past year helped the Forest Service identify these preliminary needs for change. Among many other topics, the Preliminary Need for Change recognizes the important role that the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests play in sustaining the forests of western North Carolina and supporting local economies. During this plan development phase, the Forest Service, with input from members of the public and representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organizations, will determine the management practices necessary to accomplish the desired goals, and the effects those practices may have on the land. The Forest Service will then draft the proposed revised Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement. “We have seen stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum come together over the past year-and-a-half to help with the assessment and identify what needs to be changed,” said Bail. “With the high level of involvement we’ve seen so far, I am optimistic that we will meet our goal of having a new Forest Plan in place by September 2016.” The Assessment Phase, the first phase of plan revision, began in Fall 2012. In 2013, the agency hosted 14 public meetings to solicit comments, opinions, data and ideas from members of the public as well as representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Approximately 800 people attended the meetings, and more than 1,000 written comments were received at these meetings, as well as by mail and email. Information gathered during the assessment phase is compiled in an Assessment Report and the need for change document. Once the Plan is completed, the monitoring phase will begin as the Plan is implemented and will continue until the next forest plan revision. Each national forest has a management plan that is updated about every 15 years. The 2012 Planning Rule guides the planning process. The rule includes protection for forests, water and wildlife, while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities. It requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions. The 2012 rule strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. More information about the plan revision process is available online at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials, in conjunction with the Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountain Association, are announcing an opportunity to immerse yourself in the national park. The program, Experience Your Smokies, is a unique opportunity to get to know the park and the employees in a whole new way. Experience Your Smokies is a program designed for local residents, business, community and educational leaders to get a behind the scenes look into the national park, while networking with others from western North Carolina. Participants will attend five full day sessions at a variety of locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, accompanying park employees in activities that may include radio-tracking elk, participating in a fish survey, and assisting with trail restoration. This is a perfect way to get an insider’s look at park operations as we explore areas like Cataloochee Valley, Deep Creek, Oconaluftee, Clingmans Dome, and Purchase Knob. Experience Your Smokies will be on Tuesdays March 25th, April 8th, April 29th, May 6, and Saturday May 17th. Visit www.friendsofthesmokies.org For More Information.
WRGC received numerous phone calls on Tuesday from citizens expressing concerns over the thickening smoke settling over Sylva and surrounding area. According to North Carolina Forest Service Spokesman Ron Hollifield, there were several sources of smoke including a controlled burn in the Big Laurel area of Swain County. Additionally, there were loose fires on the Qualla Boundary along with Controlled and Uncontrolled fires in Upstate South Carolina which fed additional smoke into our area. The Forest Service reminds everyone to exercise caution due to the rapidly drying conditions even after the rain.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the temporary closure of Ramsey Cascades Trail due to a damaged footbridge that has created an unsafe river crossing. Park trail crews expect to complete needed repairs by late April. During recent high winds, a large hemlock tree fell and damaged the 60-foot long footbridge that crosses Ramsey Prong. The fallen tree destroyed the handrail that is necessary for safe crossing over the footbridge which lies approximately 12 feet above the river. The bridge was also cracked and separated from the foundation.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials were joined by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Senator Lamar Alexander on Monday, March 3, to celebrate the contributions that public-private partnerships have made to the national park to help honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage. Secretary Jewell announced a timeline for the construction of a 13,000 square-foot Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, TN with the solicitation process beginning immediately and construction expected to begin this summer. The new facility is expected to be completed in the fall 2015. Through the completion of this new regional center, the National Park Service (NPS) will be able to properly care for over 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records, and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee including Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Consolidating the collections materials will both ensure the protection for the heirlooms entrusted to the National Park Service and also allow for a single Museum Curator to oversee all the collections. “We are delighted to be a part of this incredible opportunity that now allows us to properly care and preserve these pieces of our past enabling us to continue to tell the stories of the Smokies,” said Acting Smokies Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the generosity of our partners, Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies, and the individuals that offered their support.” Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. “The Friends of the Smokies is privileged to partner with the Great Smoky Mountain Association to assist the NPS in the creation of such a lasting and meaningful resource for our area,” said President Jim Hart. The new facility centralizes irreplaceable materials in a conveniently located, secure, climate-controlled space in which they will be preserved, as well as office and lab space where they can be studied by NPS staff and visiting researchers. In addition to providing construction funds, our partner Great Smoky Mountains Association is also providing support for a librarian to help catalog and care for the items as well as assist park descendants, researchers, and visitors access materials for study. “Great Smoky Mountains Association is honored to be a part of this landmark project that pays tribute to the people who gave up their homes and communities for the creation of this national park. Of all the park projects GSMA has supported over the last 61 years, this is one of the very most important,” said Executive Director Terry Maddox. The historic artifacts include pre-historic projectile points, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, clothing, farm implements, tools and other possessions that would have been found on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days such as everyday items including hair combs, butter churns, beds, looms, and spinning wheels, all handmade and all one-of-a-kind. The collection also includes documentary history through oral histories of Southern Appalachian speech, folklore, official documents, photographs and stories. Having these artifacts more accessible will also allow more opportunities for the NPS to share items with approved public museums for temporary display including the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Park officials are honored by the dedication and perseverance of Senator Alexander and Department of Interior leaders who provided continued support leading to the construction of this facility which likewise honors the families whose legacy will be well preserved. As a part of the media event, leaders also had the unique opportunity to hear the stories of several descendants of families who gave their lands for the creation of the national park as we honor the contributions of their ancestors through this preservation effort.
A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 spent $741 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 10,959 jobs in the local area. “Great Smoky Mountains National Park is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides for visitors. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.” National park tourism is a critical economic driver for gateway communities across the nation. Researchers estimate that for every $1 invested by American taxpayers, the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy. The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber along with Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion. According to the report, most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent), hotels, motels and B&Bs (27 percent), and other amusement and recreation (20 percent). To download the report visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.
The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a series of prescribed burns over the next 3 – 6 weeks on a total of about 3,500 acres of the Nantahala Ranger District in the Nantahala National Forest.
The prescribed burn will take place in the following areas:
The dates for each burn will be announced as they are decided and weather permitting. The prescribed burns will reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floor, preventing catastrophic wildfire and reducing risks to nearby communities. Prescribed burning also helps improve forest health and wildlife habitat. Public safety is the highest priority during a prescribed burn.
Click here to learn more about restoring fire to the mountains.
Arson is blamed for a wildfire that burned more than 120 acres in Swain County. The fire started yesterday on the Cherokee Reservation and made its way into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Bureau of Indian Affairs says it was clear that it was arson early on because the fire was actually set in four different locations. You could see the the fire from Downtown Cherokee. The fire was first reported just after noon and the wind pushed it quickly through tinder-dry woods. Flames came close to some homes on the secluded mountainside. Some of the firefighters were left to stand-watch at homes that had been threatened, making sure there were no flare-ups. Crews from both the reservation and national park sides coordinated efforts to surround the flames. That strategy paid-off. 100 percent containment has been achieved Tuesday night and no structures were damaged. No arrests have been made at this time.
A new tribal program is to thank for more deer roaming the Cherokee Reservation. Wildlife officals are moving deer from the Morrow Mountain State Park to the Reservation. The deer have spent a month in a protected habitat but were released into the wild on Monday. Chief Michell Hicks says “It definitely makes you feel proud to know that we are helping to improve the environment that we live in. Our goal is to monitor and hopefully watch them blossom.” Each deer has a tag and collar for radio tracking. The deer will be monitored closely. Cheif Hicks hopes that more deer will be released on the reservation in the near future.
Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have approved a request from Sevier County Electric System (SCES) to replace six electric poles along the southbound Spur beginning Monday, February 24 through Thursday, March 6. The work will require weekday one-lane closures, Monday through Thursday, for short sections between Norton Creek and the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. Crews will replace the poles along the shoulder of the Spur and adjacent side roads. The temporary lane closures are necessary to provide for the safety of both workers and motorists. The one-lane closures will be in effect Monday through Thursday from 7:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. as needed. No lane closures will be allowed over the weekends to accommodate weekend traffic. For more information about road conditions, please visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm and or call the Park’s Road and Weather Information Line at 865-436-1200.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is recruiting volunteers to staff the Information Center at Clingmans Dome, from April 1 through November 30, 2014. The center sits at an elevation of 6,300 feet and is a source of information for the national park. Volunteers are needed to provide educational, recreational and trip planning information. Other helpful services provided include the ability to purchase guides, maps, outdoor apparel, and other products sold by the Great Smoky Mountain s Association. GSMA is a primary park partner and is involved in a number of projects to improve the visitors’ experience. Volunteers will be working alongside GSMA employees and each volunteer is asked to work at least one four-hour shift per week, either 9:30 am until 1:30 pm or 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm. Volunteers are needed to fill all days of the week, but especially Friday through Sunday. Interested persons will be provided orientation and training before their tour of duty. To sign up for this volunteer program or for more information, please call 828-497-1906 Monday through Friday.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell sentenced Charles R. Nash, of Whittier, N.C. to serve 10 days in jail for the illegal possession or harvesting of American ginseng from the Nantahala National Forest, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina and Kristin Bail, Forest Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina. According to the January 30, 2014 sentencing hearing and other documents, on October 12, 2013, Nash admitted to illegally possessing 24 American ginseng roots he had dug from the Mosses Creek and Wayehutta Off-Road Vehicle areas in Jackson County. He pleaded guilty to the poaching charge. Staff of the Forest Service replanted the recovered viable roots. American ginseng is on the list of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reminds the public that gathering ginseng on the Nantahala National Forest without a permit is illegal. U.S. Forest Service lands have been severely impacted by ginseng poachers in western North Carolina. American ginseng was formerly abundant throughout the eastern mountains, but due to repeated poaching, populations have been reduced to a point that they can barely reproduce. The roots poached in this park are usually young, between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and have not yet reached their full reproductive capacity. In time, the plant’s populations could recover if poaching ceased. The Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the regulatory agency that evaluates the biological and management status of wild American ginseng throughout its native range. The Division issues an annual or biennial report detailing if any harvest conditions need to be modified to ensure the sustainable harvest of wild native ginseng. Permits to collect ginseng root in National Forests are issued through the U.S. Forest Service in early September. Permits are not available in National Park lands such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where even the possession of American Ginseng is prohibited.
The investigation of the case was handled by the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville handled the prosecution.
To report illegal harvesting activities of American ginseng, please call 828-257-4200.
The new chairperson of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, Robert Jumper reported to the Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday that a trio of marketing firms including Pineapple Public Relations and Marketing firm has been retained to help the TBA move forward with the next phase of the tourism marketing plan for Jackson County. Jumper explained how some local citizens did not favorably view the “Play On” marketing theme adopted by the County. Jumper stated that the terminology had tested well in the market research centered on the desired tourist population. One of the firms selected is Pineapple Marketing and Public Relations firm has plenty of tourism centered marketing experience in western North Carolina and north Georgia. While increasing the number of tourists coming to Jackson County is important Jumper further emphasized the importance of having the infrastructure in place to accommodate those coming to spend their vacations in the area. The infrastructure must not only include places to stay, but access to the rivers and lakes, and the means to enjoy all the resources including trails, hiking and the natural resources. Jumper was in agreement with comments made by Business and Industry Director Richard Price that all the messages coming out of Jackson County in recruiting tourism traffic need to be coordinated and consistent.
Fire management officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are planning two 200-acre prescribed burns in the Canadian Top unit adjacent to Cataloochee Valley. Weather permitting, burn operations could begin as early as Monday, and may continue at different times through early November. The two burn sites are located on Bald Top adjacent to Mathews Branch near the Cataloochee Ranger Station. The units are part of the larger Canadian Top multi-year prescribed fire project where fire managers have been conducting a series of low-intensity, controlled burns to restore the composition and open structure of the oak woodlands that occur on upper slopes and ridges within the site. “One of the goals of the prescribed burn is to improve elk forage and habitat,” said Great Smoky Mountain Wildland Fire Module Leader Shane Paxton. “This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing the regeneration of oak and yellow pines along with increasing the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Over time, this increase in herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor will improve forage for elk which graze the nearby meadows.” Roads and trails will remain open to the public throughout the burn operations, although Little Cataloochee Trail may be temporarily closed if fire activity warrants. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area. The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are being funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For more information on the use of prescribed burns in Great Smoky Mountains NP, visit the website www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/fire-regime.htm.
Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Department at WCU is predicting that this fall season could be one of the best for hotels and other local businesses in the mountains due to several factors such as: favorable travel conditions and a drop in hotel and gas prices . October is traditionally the most busy tourist season for “leaf lookers” here in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dr. Morse, as well as many business owners here in the mountains do fear that not enough people know that while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with its trails and facilities are currently closed due to the government shut down, highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee still remains open.