This week, thousands of people will come from across the country to view the synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tuesday night was the first viewing event at the Elkmont Campground, where the rare beetles are most concentrated. The park this year is limiting attendance with a lottery system because the bugs have become so popular.

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Radim Schreiber flew in from Iowa to photograph the beetles. Growing up in the Czech Republic, he said he’d only seen fireflies once in his life, before coming to the States.

“I was mesmerized by how many fireflies there were,” he said. “So that really sparked my interest to later take pictures.”

Now, he describes himself as a professional firefly photographer. His images of the critters have won Smithsonian Magazine awards, and are recognized around the world.

“They are illuminating my way through life right now,” said Schreiber. “They are providing me joy, and healing, and through my work I can share those experiences with other people, which is extremely rewarding.”

Radim Schreiber, a professional firefly photographer, travelled from Iowa to see the beetles in the Smoky Mountains.
Radim Schreiber, a professional firefly photographer, travelled from Iowa to see the beetles in the Smoky Mountains.

He’s not alone in his passion.

“It’s almost an unreal experience to have in nature, it’s incredibly special,” said park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

Soehn told 10News that of the more than 20,000 applications, they were only able to grant 1,800 parking passes. That became necessary to protect the fireflies, which can be trampled before they take flight at dusk.

Passes were issued to individuals from all 50 states, said Soehn.

Gina Singh and Jill Wilson came all the way from Seattle. They say most people back home don’t believe the fireflies actually blink in sync.

Gina Singh and Jill Wilson travelled from Seattle to see the synchronous fireflies.
Gina Singh and Jill Wilson travelled from Seattle to see the synchronous fireflies.

“People say they don’t do it. I grew up where there are fireflies, and the fireflies just blink randomly,” said Singh.

“Then we’re like, Google it,” she said with a laugh.

But while the crowds pack the Elkmont trail, Schreiber heads in the other direction – looking for locations he scouts days in advance. He heads off into the dark woods alone, camera in hand – looking for that distinctive glow.

“In order to see light, you need to have a dark,” he said. “And I would always battle shadows within me, wounds from childhood, but when I see fireflies that are just happily glowing in the darkness, I see the brightness of it.”

It’s a brightness he hopes to share with others. To see more of Schreiber’s work, visit his website.

The viewing events run through June 7.