Cades Cove vehicle-free day now permanent
After making big changes through pilot projects at Cades Cove Loop Road and Laurel Falls Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park received positive feedback in recently assessed monitoring data, leading to a decision to make the vehicle-free Wednesdays at Cades Cove a permanent fixture going forward. In 2022, vehicle-free Wednesdays will be offered May 4 through Sept. 28.
Last year was the second for the Cades Cove Vehicle-Free Day pilot project, with motor vehicles prohibited from the popular area Wednesdays between May and September in order to allow cyclists and pedestrians to better enjoy the area. In 2021, 84% of visitors provided supportive comments, with 42% requesting more vehicle-free opportunities in Cades Cove. On average, 1,296 visitors participated each Wednesday between May 5 and Sept. 1, with 44% walking and 56% cycling Loop Road.
The full-day approach combined with on-site parking management allowed better access and opportunity for visitors to enjoy the experience throughout the day. Parking was available 82% of the time, but parking lots were constantly full during the morning hours.
At Laurel Falls, 91% of commenters supported that pilot project, which allowed trailhead parking by reservation only, with shuttle buses available too. Fees from the parking reservations funded parking lot staff, on-site portable toilets, roadside signs and barriers. However, the park won’t make any decisions on permanent solutions at Laurel Falls before its current Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan Environmental Assessment is complete. Until then, no reservation or shuttle systems are planned for Laurel Falls.
Overall, visitors experienced fewer litter and crowding issues during the pilot. A average of less than one grocery bag of trash was a collected by volunteers during a six-hour shift, down significantly from an average of 2.2 bags prior to the pilot.
The Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan EA will consider management strategies such as those employed during the pilot project. Park managers plan to hold a public scoping period for the EA by early summer and then release the EA for public comment later in the year. Specific dates for these public comment periods will be announced at a later date.
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