By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Newfound Gap Road (US 441N) is the lifeline between Cherokee and Gatlinburg, Tenn. Last year (2011), that road was closed numerous times due to ice and snow and had a negative impact on this area’s tourism.
This year’s milder winter has also meant that the road has not been closed nearly as often as it was last year. According to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, general traffic into the Park was up 23.8 percent in January 2012 from the same month a year ago.
“The Park attributes the increase to this year’s unusually mild winter weather when compared with the harsh 2011 winter conditions,” Park officials said in a statement.
Newfound Gap Road was only closed six times in January 2012. It was closed on all or parts of 17 days in January 2011.
“The warmer weather and higher than normal number of days the road over the mountain has been open this January has certainly helped ease some of the financial hardships that many Cherokee businesses face during what is traditionally our off-season,” said Matthew Pegg, Cherokee Chamber of Commerce executive director. “Gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and even some hotels and attractions have certainly benefitted this year.”
According to Park figures, Cherokee’s entry point into the Park showed a 44.7 percent increase in January 2012 over the previous year. Gatlinburg’s entry point increased by 23.4 percent.
The new Oconaluftee Visitors Center reported a total of 72,464 visitors in January 2012; up from 50,080 the previous January. Total Park visits were down considerably in 2011 (9,008,830) from 2010 (9,463,538).
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel has also fared better this year. The property reported around 490,000 guests in January 2012 compared to just 326,000 in January 2011 which represents a 50 percent improvement in year over year volume.
“Weather impacted us significantly Dec. ’10 through Feb. ’11,” said Leeann Bridge, vice-president of marketing. “As a result of this year’s mild winter, major roads and highways into Cherokee have seen minimal to no closures. This, along with aggressive marketing, has impacted year over year volume significantly. If guests feel that they can safely make the trip and see value in the offers we send them, they will come.”