Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have announced that the Elkmont entrance road will be closed to motor vehicles and pedestrian use every night starting at 5 p.m. until midnight, June 7-14, except to registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground.
Why? The synchronized fireflies are performing, and the only way to see them this year, unless you are staying in Elkmont, is to take the trolley.
“The City of Gatlinburg, in partnership with the park, will provide the trolleys for this activity. The trolley service, coinciding with the expected peak flashing period, will be the sole transportation mode for visitor access during this period,” according to press releases. No private vehicles will be allowed to enter Elkmont.
In addition, cars cannot park alongside the road, pullouts or any other areas besides the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area for the purposes of viewing fireflies at Elkmont. Only those visitors parking at the visitor center will be allowed to ride the trolleys.
Chief Park Ranger Bill Wright said that “There is a growing concern over the number of people parking in undesignated areas, along roadsides with narrow grassy shoulders that do not have adequate space for getting in and out of vehicles. Walking along the roadsides, along blind curves and, in some instances in traffic, are high risk factors, especially in the dark after coming back from Elkmont. This also means that visitors will not be allowed to park their vehicles along Little River Road and walk to Elkmont. Park”
Little River Road will not be closed, but there will be no parking allowed along the road. The Elkmont entrance road is the only road closed, except for trolley service.
The trolleys will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 6 p.m. The trolleys will continually run until the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area is full or until 9 p.m., whichever comes first. The last trolley to return visitors from Elkmont to the Sugarlands Visitor Center is scheduled at 11 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person as in previous years.
“Our main objectives,” Ditmanson said, “are to improve the experience by minimizing crowded conditions thereby reducing safety and traffic concerns and curtailing potential resource damage. These changes will also help to preserve a good experience for campers at Elkmont by diminishing the traffic in the campground and disruption of passing vehicles from the noise and headlight glare.”
For those riding the trolleys, it is recommended that visitors bring flashlights with red cellophane covers to reduce white light. Visitors can bring lawn chairs, and carry food and water in backpacks which can fit on their laps in the trolleys; there are no services available at the site. Visitors are prohibited from bringing coolers, alcoholic beverages, or their pets.