Smokies sets visitation record for 2016

Despite a late fall wildfire that shut down the park for nearly two weeks and scorched 11,000 acres, Great Smoky Mountains national park drew a record number of visitors last year.

Park spokeswoman Jamie Sanders said more than 11.3 million people visited the Smokies in 2016, helping increase a healthy connection to the outdoors while boosting the economy.

The visitation was a 5.6 percent increase over 2015 when there were 10.7 million visitors.

The Smokies is a rugged swath of a half-million acres of wilderness, front- and backcountry campsites, picnic areas, historic structures and some 900 miles of trails straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It is the most visited park in the National Park Service.

Visitors used the park’s Gatlinburg, Tennessee, entrance most, with 3,715,480 visitors last year. Some 2.2 million entered through Oconaluftee in Cherokee, nearly 1.6 million through the Townsend, Tennessee entrance, and another nearly 3.2 million entered through the park’s outlying areas, such as Cataloochee and Deep Creek on the North Carolina side.

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