Heavy traffic through Smokies for fall colors hits early this year

11:48 PM, Oct 9, 2010   |    comments
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October is a peak time for people to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park because thousands of acres of trees change from green to shades of yellow, red, and orange.  Park officials said, so far this year, traffic to look at changing trees is heavier than usual.

Thousands of people packed into the park Saturday afternoon, taking advantage of mild temperatures and sunshine, to experience fall in the park. 

Lexington, Kentucky resident Shannon Seltsam, and several members of her family, climbed Charlie's Bunion, a trail at Newfound Gap, to scatter her mother's ashes.  Her mother, Celia Woolard, passed away in August.  Seltsam said her mother had talked about her final resting place being in the park for years.  Seltsam said being in the park with her family on Saturday was everything she expected.

"It was beautiful.  The weather was great. The sunshine.  It was amazing," said Seltsam.

Park officials said trees are not in full color yet.  They said it could be another week until the leaves are bright vivid colors.  Visitors noticed Saturday, but said the trip is still worth it.

"I don't think they're quite where I would like to have seen them, but they're starting to come in now and they're gorgeous," said Elizabeth Martin, a visitor from Michigan.

Natural signs of fall are obvious in the park, but park officials say another tell-tale sign the season is changing are the amount of cars traveling through the park.  It took some drivers, more than an hour, to get out of the park on Saturday.

"This is backing up four miles right now, from Gatlinburg to the National Park. A lot of these folks are sitting in line for 45 minutes to go two miles," said Park Ranger Brad Free. 

Free said traffic can sometimes be backed up nine miles in October, but that usually doesn't happen until closer to the month.  He said seeing so many people early in the month is encouraging.  Park visitor numbers have been steady for 2010 compared to 2009.  They're up by two to three percent from 2008. 

Park officials said the least crowded times to visit the Smokies are during the work week. 

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