Friends of the Smokies announced Thursday that it will temporarily fund the reopening of Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C., from Friday through Monday, Jan. 18-21.
Visitation to the park is expected to increase during these dates due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. Both visitor centers will be open Friday from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Following the closure Monday evening, the two visitor centers will again close until federal funding is restored and the park fully reopens.
“We are proud to commit funding for the visitor centers and restrooms to reopen during the holiday weekend in order for rangers to provide a safe and enjoyable visitor experience,” Friends of the Smokies Executive Director Tim Chandler said. “Any opportunity to work with our partners to preserve and protect America’s most-visited national park is a welcome one, and Friends of the Smokies stands at the ready to provide further support.”
Friends of the Smokies will provide funds for park rangers in the Resource Education division to reopen the visitor centers and provide information services to park visitors. Additional funds from Friends of the Smokies will be used for park employees to clean, reopen and maintain the restroom facilities at these two locations during the temporary opening. Employees of Great Smoky Mountains Association will staff park stores at both locations. All GSMA sales support Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“We are incredibly grateful for Friends’ contribution,” Laurel Rematore, Chief Executive Officer of Great Smoky Mountains Association, added. “We appreciate every chance we have to help park visitors learn more about this park’s resources through sales of our ranger-approved merchandise.”
At the direction of the National Park Service last week, revenue generated by recreation fees is currently being used to clean and maintain restrooms at Newfound Gap, Cable Mill in Cades Cove, Smokemont Campground and Deep Creek Picnic Area. This federal funding also allowed the reopening of Cades Cove Campground and Picnic Area, including restrooms, and maintenance of Little River Road between Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area and the Townsend Wye and Foothills Parkway East. The visitor center at Cable Mill in Cades Cove is currently open 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. using this federal funding with staffing provided by GSMA.