Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials are inviting the public to the Grand Opening and Ribbon-cutting at the Park’s new 100% Partner-funded Oconaluftee Visitor Center just inside the Cherokee, NC entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The event will take place at 11:00 a.m. Friday, April 15 about 1.5 miles north of Cherokee, NC along Newfound Gap Road.
The new Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the first new visitor service facility to be constructed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the early 1960’s and is the first structure in North Carolina to be constructed explicitly as a full-service Visitor Center. Since the 1940’s the park has been serving up to 3,500 visitors daily at a small 1,700 square foot building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps for use as a Ranger Station.
The new 6,300-square-foot visitor center and adjacent 1,700-square-foot comfort station were constructed and donated by the Great Smoky Mountains Association at a cost of $3 million. The Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park provided over $550,000 to fund the visitor orientation and museum components. The theme of the new facility is the rich cultural history of the Smokies ranging from pre-historic times, through the arrival of European settlements, logging, the Park’s Creation, and the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The center was designed from the ground up to be a model of energy efficiency and sustainability. It incorporates a broad suite of features including geothermal wells, solartube lighting, rainwater collectors to supply the restrooms, and extensive recycled building materials.
According to Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson, “We are exceedingly proud that we were able to put together a partnership that has allowed us to create this exciting new visitor destination at no cost to the taxpayer. Between the diverse cultural exhibits and the Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstore we expect the new center to quickly become a destination in its own right.”
Ditmanson will serve as the Master of Ceremonies at Friday’s ceremony. Guest speakers will include: Michell Hicks, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Terry Maddox, Executive Director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA), Barbara Muhlbeier, Chair of the GSMA Board, the Reverend Dan Matthews, Chair of the Board of Friends of the Smokies, Freddie Harrill of Senator Kay Hagen's staff, John Mitchell of Senator Richard Burr’s staff and Boyce Dietz representing Representative Heath Shuler. The Park is also pleased to have the Color Guard from American Legion Steve Youngdeer Post 143 to present the colors. Miss Cherokee, Tonya Carroll, will lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.