The Great Smoky Mountains recorded another significant decline in visitors last month. Compared to the same month last year, visitation to the park in October declined a whopping 9.5%. Strangely, October is one of the busiest months of the year because of the fall foliage, and this year ranked as a very good year for fall colors.
For the year-to-date, park visitation is down 6.7% when compared to the first 10 months of 2010. This is worse than the overall National Park System, which is down 2.4% for the year. Moreover, parks in the southeast region saw an increase of 3.8%, making the numbers in the Smokies look even worse. Regional increases were driven by three parks in particular:
* Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia has recorded 2.3 million visitors for the YTD, a jump of 56%!
* Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida, with 5.1 million visitors so far this year, has seen an increase of 25.5%!
* Blue Ridge Parkway also recorded an increase of 5.2% versus the first 10 months of 2010.
However, parks nearby the Smokies have fared just as badly, or worse. Shenandoah National Park has seen a decline in visitation of 4.6% for the year, while the Big South Fork is down 10.8%.
So what to make of all these numbers? I don't know what the exact numbers are, but I would say that a large percentage of Smokies visitors come from the area directly surrounding the park. In particular, from the Knoxville area. With the bad economy that we've had to endure over the last three years, my guess is that many people in the surrounding area have spent their vacation/recreation time nearby in order to stretch their dollars as far as possible. Many of those people in 2011, I'm guessing, decided it's time to do and see something else, with the beach sounding like a pretty good option.
Anybody have any other insights?