Visitors find raging rivers in rain-soaked Smoky Mountains

7:57 PM, Jul 4, 2013   |    comments
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As a deluge of visitors swamp the rain-soaked Smokies for the holiday, the Park is warning people to beware abnormally high water that can change rapidly with more rain in the forecast.

The Smoky Mountains were already soggy after the Park received more than twice the average rainfall in June.  There are no lifeguards in the park and many locations do not have cell phone service.  Rangers are asking people to watch out for unpredictable surges in the water and slippery rocks along the banks.

"The extended week around the Fourth of July holiday is traditionally one of our busiest weeks in the park.  The rivers are already very swollen, they're running fast, and they're running high. That poses a real threat to anyone attempting to cross a stream, go swimming, or float down the river in an inner tube," said Dana Soehn, GSMNP spokesperson.

Soehn said Park Rangers are keeping a close eye on two campgrounds.  The Deep Creek Campground on the North Carolina side of the park near Bryson City and the Elkmont Campground in Tennessee are both susceptible to dangerous conditions because so many of their camping sites are directly beside the water.

"We have people keeping a constant watch on rain gauges in the higher elevations because that's where a lot of the water can come from and rush downstream.  If we need to move people to higher ground at one of the lower-lying campground facilities, we'll make that call," said Soehn.

Elkmont Campground was full on Thursday afternoon with many visitors arriving on Independence Day.  Adrian McAllister and his family have been at the campground since Saturday and endured a steady string of showers.  Now their campsite resembles a temple made of blue tarps.  

"We're tied off to the tree here just as high as we can go," said McAllister.  "We've got a 40x40 tarp. We actually had two smaller tarps and that didn't work so we had to get out the bigger tarp out.  We've got our tent covered, our table covered, and got a little bit of cover over the campfire, so we're good to go."

McAllister, his wife, and two children have all played in the river beside the campground and noticed drastic changes in its flow.

"We went tubing a little bit, but I'm a little bit nervous about it now. It's a whole lot faster. It has come up several feet.  We'll probably just hang out in the tent and stay dry," said McAllister.

The Smoky Mountain Outdoors white water rafting company in Gatlinburg released a statement on Thursday to indicate the rain is creating exciting conditions on the Pigeon River.  However, it is making an adjustment to the minimum age of passengers.

"Our professional guides train in much higher water than we have today [Thursday], so we are rafting as usual with one slight adjustment. The minimum age on the Upper [Pigeon River] is 12 and on the Lower [Pigeon River] is 8. We will be happy to reschedule any families who have children under these ages to one of our other rafting days," wrote Olwen Claiborne, Marketing Director for Smoky Mountain Outdoors.

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