"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
Visitation to the Great Smoky Mountains dropped 17.6% in June, and is down 11.9% through the first six months of the year. This represent nearly a half million fewer visitors so far this year!
Park spokesman, Bob Miller, has been quoted in the press stating that managers aren't exactly sure as to the reasons for the decline, but think that high gas prices and the continuing weak economy are to blame.
It's true that a gallon of gas costs roughly $1.00 more when compared to last summer, Gross Domestic Product is down from last year, and the unemployment situation is roughly the same, but visitation across the entire National Park System is down only 1.1% for the YTD.
Incidentally, visitation to the Blue Ridge Parkway has jumped 23.5% this year. Superintendent Phil Francis, however, said the increase was due to the Parkway opening on time this year as a result of an easier winter that brought fewer trees down on the road. I'll buy that analysis when comparing the early spring numbers, but the BRP still saw an increase of 1.7% for the month of June.
So there has to be another reason(s) for the significant drop in the Smokies relative to the rest of the National Park System. Have there been significant increases in hotel and cabin rental rates? Is the park's reputation for being too crowded catching up with the general public? Did reports of the April Cades Cove tornado give the impresson that major portions of the park were damaged? Has Pigeon Forge and/or Gatlinburg lost any significant convention business?
Anybody have any insight?