Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cades Cove expected to open one month early

Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Dale Ditmanson has announced that the popular Cades Cove Loop is expected to reopen Saturday, April 24, about a month earlier than had been projected. Ditmanson credits capable management and aggressive efforts by the contractor, APAC-Atlantic, Inc., Harrison Division, and the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration, in conjunction with financial incentives built into the contract for the early completion.

In recognition of the completion of this long-overdue project and of National Park Week, the Park is planning two celebratory events. A Field Day has been set for Saturday, April 24 when only bicycles and pedestrians will be permitted on the road until noon. On Sunday morning, April 25 the Park and the Friends of the Smokies are planning a one-time-only “Cades Cove Loop Lope”, which will offer pre-registered runners a choice of the full 11 mile loop or a 3.5 mile loop course. Both events are being planned to minimize visitor inconvenience.

“We are really pleased to be able to get the Loop Road open earlier than planned, despite a much harder than average winter.” Ditmanson said. “We know how much our visitors look forward to including Cades Cove on the itinerary, and we are also sensitive to the impact that the closure has had on the tourism-driven economies in our gateway communities.”

Historically the Park has declined requests to permit foot and bicycle road races in the Cove, due to the heavy visitation that Cades Cove attracts and the knowledge that events of this nature would be very popular. In this instance, Park managers, in partnership with Friends of the Smokies, are organizing this one-time event in recognition of the first major facelift that the Loop Road has had since 1978.

The weekend’s activities also coincide with National Park Week, a nation-wide celebration in National Park areas when visitors are encouraged to get out and enjoy the great American outdoors.

The Park has traditionally limited the Loop Road to bicycles and pedestrians until 10 a.m. each Saturday and Wednesday from early May through September, but they have extended this one “bicycle closure” until noon to accommodate an anticipated greater number of people. They are also expanding the parking area available to Loop visitors through use of one of the mowed pastures, and will be limiting access to the Cove beyond the Townsend Wye to those coming to bike or walk until noon on Saturday the 24th of April.

Details for those interested in participating in Sunday’s run will be posted on the Friends of the Smokies website in the next several days, but it is expected that participants will have to pre-register. Participants are encouraged to ride share due to parking limitations; a maximum of 150 vehicle passes will be made available on a first come, first served basis. As with all funds raised by the Friends on behalf of the park, the event fee will go to support a wide range of Park programs. The run will step off at 8:00 a.m. so that the road can be re-opened to vehicles by 12 noon. Due to very limited parking at the beginning of the Loop Road, vehicle access past the Townsend “Wye” will be restricted to registered runners and campers until the race is over.

In addition to the road improvements, visitors to the Cove will also be able to view improvements to the Cades Cove Store and Bicycle rental facilities, which have taken place over the past several months.

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