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Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees hit to visitor numbers after COVID-19 closure

The park just saw its lowest monthly number of visitors in decades.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — In April 2019, almost a million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

In April 2020, the park counted 96,290 recreational visitors -- less than 10% of its April 2019 total. In fact, it's the lowest monthly total since before the park began releasing those numbers in 1979.

This new total follows an unprecedented closure: the GSMNP closed on March 24 and began to reopen on May 9. 

The park released its April visitation numbers Thursday, showing the real impact of COVID-19 closures on tourism in the Smokies. 

Because the park was closed all April, almost all of that month's visitors were drivers on the Foothills Parkway. In fact, the park reported April visitors at only three locations: 74,748 on Foothills Parkway West, 23,842 on Foothills Parkway Northbound and 781 on Twentymile Loop. 

The GSMNP also saw lower visitor numbers in March. It reported 786,305 recreational visitors in March 2019 and only 487,535 recreational visitors in March 2020. 

The graph below shows the recreational visitor numbers GSMNP reported in the first four months of 2019 and 2020. 

Credit: WBIR
This graph uses recreational visitor numbers released by GSMNP in January, February, March and April of 2019 and 2020. The blue line shows 2019 visitors, and the orange line shows 2020 visitors.

In 2019, the park saw a record-breaking 12.5 million visitors. The March-May closure could mean a lower number this year. At the end of April 2020, the park reported 1,449,173 people had visited since the start of the year. 

The park's phased reopening is ongoing. 

RELATED: Great Smoky Mountains begins reopening in phases

RELATED: In photos: Some Sevier County attractions, Great Smoky Mountains reopen

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