Smokies national park to sell advance tickets for firefly viewing

Apr. 29, 2014 @ 11:50 PM

Parking passes for the annual firefly viewing event, taking place at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park June 4-11, go on sale starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. Each year in late May and early June, the photinus carolinus species of rover firefly, known for its synchronized lighting, appears in the park.

The online ticketing system through recreation.gov will guarantee visitors a parking spot at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, without being required to show up hours in advance. The pass costs $1.50 and will cover a maximum of six people in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length), while four passes will be required for oversize vehicles, such as a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 people).

This system was put into place in 2012 to regulate the number of people who attend the event, park official Caitlin Worth said. Visitors were not able to access the visitor center during a busy week in June, due to the large number of people arriving early for the event.

"Demand was increasing every year, and people were taking first-come, first-serve very literally, showing up at 2 p.m. for an event that begins after dark," she said. "We were turning people away because the lot was full before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Some people would drive hundreds of miles, not knowing whether or not they would get in."

In addition to the tickets on sale Wednesday, the park will hold 85 tickets each day to be sold on the day before the event, in case anyone misses the advance sale of tickets. Those tickets usually sell out quickly, Worth said, so she advises those who plan to attend to buy their tickets as soon as possible.

"The advance tickets do take a little longer to sell out, because there are more of them, with all of the days going on sale at once," she said. "Last year, the day-before passes sold out within two or three minutes of going up, some in under a minute."

Because of this, Worth said, it is important to have multiple dates in mind when signing up, as the first choice may not always be available. She recommends users create a recreation.gov account before trying to buy passes. The website will hold a 15-minute reservation while an account is set up, but she believes it is best to avoid this.

Each night will have a total capacity of 200 cars, with 115 passes being sold in advance and 85 the day before. This limit is due to both the size of the parking lot and concerns of having too many people around the fireflies, potentially harming the creatures.

Shuttle buses, provided in partnership with the city of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the visitor center at 7 p.m. The cost will be $1 per person for a round trip, collected when boarding the shuttle. This will be the only mode of transportation for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.

Parking passes will be non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through recreation.gov will receive an email confirmation with specific information about the event. 

Passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials strongly encourage the use of recreation.gov instead, because it is faster and provides far more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the park. The $1.50 fee covers the cost of processing the requests; the park will not receive any revenue from reservations and shuttle tickets.

jold@themountainpress.com