Dealing with the slide

Most park activities still available
Jan. 28, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

All is not lost.

Although the Jan. 16 landslide in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park destroyed approximately 200 feet of Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, a park spokeswoman assures that most park activities and destinations remains open to visitors.

Molly Schroer said some roads are still being cleared on the Tennessee side due to debris from recent storms, “but as far as Newfound Gap, you can access all the hiking trails around there, and everything that’s normally open along that road. It’s just that small section past Newfound Gap Road, just a little past the parking lot, that’s closed.”

So campgrounds, trails and picnic areas, as well as popular destinations like Cades Cove and the views at Newfound Gap near the border, are still open, and everything will stay open barring inclement weather.

“And it’s a nice time to hike, very pleasant right now,” Schroer said.

Basically, the only thing visitors can’t do is get to Cherokee, N.C., via Newfound Gap Road. That, and they also can’t see the landslide, though several people at the Sugarlands Visitor Center had come to the park Thursday for that reason.

“We were going to see if we could get a view of it,” said Marissa Wright of Wilmington, Del.

Wright had gone on a guided tour through the park with friend Darlynn Knight. They didn’t know about the landslide when they arrived in Sevier County on Jan. 19, but they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“It is something amazing to see,” Wright said. “Terrible, but (amazing).”

Whitney Brogan of Dandridge, Tenn., also came to the park to see the landslide. She’d just left work and wanted to pass some time.

“I came to pass the time and do something different, so I just decided to ride up towards Clingman’s Dome but the road’s closed,” said Brogan, who cleans chalets and cabins in Gatlinburg. “I never got to see the landslide in person so I thought I’d ride up since it was a nice day, and just for curiosity’s sake.

“I didn’t see anything, though.”

Indeed, park officials assured that no one would be allowed to see the landslide.

Of course, January and February are lower-visitation months for the park, so the indefinite closure won’t affect tourism as much as it could have.

“It’s been quiet, but we’re used to seeing that in January and February,” Schroer said.

Still, the park is doing whatever it can to spread word that most of its attractions are still open.

“I’ve had people stop in and think they couldn’t get past Sugarlands, but that’s incorrect,” Schroer said. “There are some people coming in, but I hope to get the word out that there is still access further into the park.”

Schroer said there’s still no timeline for when the park reopens the closed portion of Newfound Gap Road, and as far as the trails on that portion, officials are assessing the situation.

“We’re looking at what impact it has on the trails and finalizing ideas on what we could do to have access on those trails or educate people about what’s going to happen until the road’s completely fixed,” Schroer said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com