GATLINBURG, Tenn. — 2019 continues to be a record-setting year for visitation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The latest figures for March 2019 show 786,305 recreational tourists visited the Smokies. That breaks the previous record for all-time busiest March set in 2016 when 778,211 took a trip to the national park.
This year started with the the park shattering the January record with 496,743 visitors. That's nearly 115,000 more than the previous record for January visitors, despite an extended federal government shutdown that reduced access and services in the national park.
February 2019 set records for rainfall in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee Valley. Yet, even with weeks of continuous rain dumping around 12 inches of water on the park, it was the third-busiest February ever recorded in the Smokies. There were 421,770 visitors in February 2019, a figure for that month only surpassed by 2017 (457,921) and 2000 (443,683).
A big reason for the bump in visitation is the completion of a new stretch of the Foothills Parkway. A 17-mile portion of what was previously called "the missing link" was opened to the public in November 2018.
Along with the paved portions of the Foothills Parkway, government leaders are working to come up with ideas for how to make the unfinished sections a destination for recreation. A 33-mile right-of-way purchased by the government for the Foothills Parkway is yet to be developed.