GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - After a record 11.3 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2016, the park is off to an even faster start in 2017.
In February, park rangers said attendance was 30 percent higher than last year.
"Even though last year was the Centennial, we've actually had more people this year," park ranger Lisa Nagurny said.
On April 1, the access road to Clingmans Dome opened.
"I think that's only going to make visitation go up more, and we're still scrolling through spring breaks," Nagurny said.
Some visitors might be traveling to see the damage from November's wildfires, but rangers ask them to be respectful and not sightsee in Gatlinburg where people lost their homes and 14 lost their lives.
"I'd say every day we have people come in and say 'Where can I see the fire,'" Nagurny said.
On Sunday, parking lots were loaded.
"You can't find a parking spot anywhere," Kentucky resident Chad Dixon said. "In Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, we've been to Cades Cove this morning and then to Clingmans Dome this afternoon. People are everywhere."
The rest of the year looks to be big for the park. Tickets to view August's total solar eclipse at Clingmans Dome sold out in less than five minutes.
Ranger Nagurny is excited for what the next season at the park has in store.
"It's going to be fun," Nagurny said. "I can already tell."
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