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Great Smokies park set visitor record in 2017, but many eyes were on the sky

Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park viewed the total solar eclipse at Clingmans Dome last August.
Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park viewed the total solar eclipse at Clingmans Dome last August.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park packed in a record 11.3 million visitors last year, including thousands who came to view the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

The 2017 numbers were slightly greater than those of 2016, with July, October and June the leading months. But more visitors are choosing the shoulder seasons, with monthly records set for January, February, April, September and November.

The largest special event in park history – the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse – boosted the annual numbers. More than 47,000 visitors streamed into the park that day, 64 percent more than on the same day of 2016.

All those tourists, Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a statement, come with challenges, however.

The park has come to rely heavily on volunteers to maintain trails, weed out invasive plants and offer information to visitors. More than 2,800 volunteers donated an average of 41 hours each to the park last year.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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