Cades Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Park resources and visitor experience in the Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been negatively impacted by growing visitation - truly a case of the area being "loved to death". As a basis for developing and evaluating alternative solutions to preserve Cades Cove, ORCA determined the types and levels of visitor use that can be accommodated while sustaining acceptable resource and crowding conditions.

The Cades Cove area of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is just one of the national parks across the nation where growing levels of visitation is increasing the challenges to the National Park Service (NPS) in fulfilling its mission to "provide for the enjoyment of park visitors" and "preserve park resources for future generations." To address this issue, ORCA applied the National Park Service "Visitor Experience and Resource Protection" methodology to study the visitor experience at Cades Cove and provide input for the Environmental Impact Statement prepared by Wilbur Smith Associates for NPS.



As part of this study, ORCA conducted three different visitor surveys to determine visitor demographics, identify the experiences that draw visitors to Cades Cove, evaluate how well those experiences are provided, assess overall visitor satisfaction, and ascertain travel patterns and the utilization of various areas within Cades Cove. Using survey data and other information developed by the project team and through a public involvement process, ORCA described and quantified the visitor experience, developed park carrying capacities, and analyzed alternative transportation strategies as input to the park's Environmental Impact Statement. Limiting use was only one option considered. Other (preferred) options include changing visitor behaviors, redistributing or containing use to less sensitive locations, increasing investment, and/or enhancing resource durability.

Through the use of surveys ORCA gauged visitors' perceptions of crowding to determine the maximum acceptable crowding levels for different types of experiences and different park settings in order to establish capacity constraints for each area of the park. Establishing capacity constraints was not simply defining the allowable number of visitors in an area, but a means of identifying thresholds that require attention by describing desired future conditions, identifying indicators that reflect the condition of the resources and visitor experience, and establishing standard ranges for indicators to be used in evaluating action alternatives and future monitoring. Indicators were defined by area based on the kinds of resources, expected visitor experience and level of management involvement.

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