GSMNP prepares for thru-hiking season after record year

After another record year in 2017, backcountry managers with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are asking visitors to consider ways to enjoy the park while minimizing their impact.

With overall park visitation and Appalachian Trail hiking both growing, the number of people entering the park has grown significantly.

“2017 in terms of thru-hikers, we saw the most thru-hikers come through the park on record,” backcountry management specialist Christine Hoyer said. “2015, 2016, 2017 – each year is the new record.”

Hoyer says around 4,400 hikers passed through the park in 2017. Combined with other backpackers staying at campsites and shelters, visitors spent the night at backcountry facilities more than 104,000 times in 2017.

“Our shelters on the ridge line have a capacity of 12 to 14. In the 70s, they held four spots open for thru-hikers during the height of thru-hiker season to accommodate that use,” Hoyer said. “When they built those shelters, when they used that limit, they would’ve never imagined how many we have coming into the park every day during the height of thru-hiker season.”

Hoyer says more than 50 thru hikers enter the park at Fontana Dam each day during peak times. Seven of the ten most popular backcountry sites in the entire national park are on the Appalachian Trail and the popularity causes crowding.

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