GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - Preparations for Hurricane Irma are underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Park officials are anticipating high winds and heavy rains to come as the storm passes through the park on Monday, overnight into Tuesday and continuing early Wednesday.
The park began notifying backcountry users registered through the backcountry reservation system of the potential weather-related threats on Thursday.
All backcountry reservation holders for Sunday through Thursday are being advised that use of the backcountry is not recommended at this time.
People with reservations are being urged to alter their trip plans. Park officials have said they will offer refunds to those unable to reschedule their trip for an alternative date.
"Campers in the park’s front country campgrounds are also being alerted at check-in of the potential hazards associated with this storm and are being advised that mandatory evacuations may be implemented as early as Sunday afternoon," the release from the park states.
The rivers and creeks in the park rise during extreme rain events and many of the park's campsites are located nearby so they could be at risk of flooding.
The park warned that downed trees across roadways can restrict access to certain areas and cause visitors to become trapped.
According to the GSMNP, if Irma continues on her projected path, widespread closures may be in effect as soon as Sunday afternoon. Closures could include facilities, campgrounds, backcountry campsites and/or roads in anticipation of the storm.
“Staff and visitor safety is at the forefront of all of our planning efforts,” Smokies Chief Ranger Steven Kloster said.
Rangers will monitor streams and rivers to provide advance warnings of possible flash flooding in the communities nearby the Smokies.
“We will continue to monitor the projected path of Hurricane Irma and will base all decisions on current and predicted weather conditions," Kloster said.
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