Archived Outdoors

Synchronous firefly viewing goes to lottery system

out firefliesThose wanting to get a peek at the famous synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will have to enter a lottery this year for a chance at tickets.

The coordinated insects, which put on a light show each year as the males fill the forest with simultaneous blinks at night, have surged in popularity since news of their presence spread by word of mouth over the past decade or so. As interest surged, the National Park Service had to start managing visitation — first in 2006 by limiting access to the Elkmont area where the show is best to shuttle service only during peak activity and then, in 2011, by initiating a first-come-first-serve online reservation system. 

In recent years, the demand for parking passes has far exceeded the number of passes available. Passes have sold out within seconds, frustrating both online and phone users.

“Last year, we had so many people log in online, almost simultaneously, to attempt to reserve a parking pass for the firefly event that the online system and phone system were maxed out,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash, who arrived at the park in 2015. “I quickly learned that trying to reserve a parking pass was like trying to get a ticket to a popular rock concert!”

The lottery system, which is used for other popular Park Service events such as the White House Easter Egg Roll and the Half Dome cable system in Yosemite National Park, will attempt to make the process more equitable and convenient.

Applicants can apply anytime during the three-day period from noon Friday, April 29, to 8 p.m. Monday, May 2, at Dates for this year’s eight-day peak show will be announced on Tuesday, April 26, and lottery results will be announced on Tuesday, May 10, with a total of 1,800 passes available.  

Lottery winners will be charged a $1.50 reservation fee and awarded a parking pass for Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, where they will catch a shuttle to see the fireflies at Elkmont. 

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