Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are inviting the public to comment through Friday, March 27 on a proposed change in vehicle-free access days on the Cades Cove Loop Road. For over 40 years, park managers have implemented several vehicle-free opportunities for bicyclists and pedestrians in Cades Cove. Currently, the road is closed to vehicles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. from May through September. Due to growing use and congestion, the Park is proposing to implement a pilot study for the 2020 season to evaluate changing this vehicle-free period to a weekly, full-day closure on Wednesdays from May through September.
The Park began collecting data on visitor use during vehicle-free time periods in 1995. Over the last 25 years, use has continued to increase with up to 1,100 people a day cycling or walking along the roadway during the 3-hour closure time period. This increased use presents several challenges including congestion, lack of parking, and disruption in campground and picnic area operations. During the current morning closures, access to the campground, picnic area, horse concession operation, campground store, and hiking/equestrian trails is blocked to accommodate parking for the biking/pedestrian opportunity on the Loop Road. As a result, traffic leading to the Cades Cove area is often gridlocked by a line of motorists waiting for the Loop Road to open at 10 a.m.
For the 2020 season, the Park is proposing to implement a full-day closure of the Loop Road to motor vehicles on Wednesdays to improve safety and provide better access to the area for multiple user groups. By closing the roadway for the entire day, bicyclists and pedestrians would have over 12 hours of daylight to use the Loop Road without vehicles. By spreading use throughout the day, parking should be more available with less impacts to campground, picnic area, and concession operations. By eliminating the Saturday morning closures, more motorists would have access to the Cades Cove area for these services along with scenic driving on what is traditionally the busiest day of the week for travel in the area. In addition, park staff and volunteers would be able to better support visitor operations on Wednesdays and Saturdays instead of devoting all personnel to traffic management and parking. As a pilot project, the Park is proposing this action as a temporary change. The Park will assess the effectiveness of the change at the end of the 2020 season.
The Park invites the public to comment on the proposed change using the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website and following the link titled “Cades Cove Vehicle-Free Days” at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm or by US Mail to Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. If approved by the National Park Service, implementation will begin in May 2020 and the results of the closure change will be evaluated by park management to inform future planning.
– National Park Service release