Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Experts: Smokies could be 'hub' of eco-tourism

A regional conference on sustainable tourism recently stated that the Great Smoky Mountains National park could be the "engine to propel new eco-friendly tourism for gateway communities in Tennessee and North Carolina," according to the Associated Press.

That's both an opportunity and a challenge for such communities as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Cherokee, N.C., and for the country's most-visited national park itself.

A National Geographic Traveler survey of "sustainable destinations" ranked the Smokies second to last among 55 national parks in the U.S. and Canada in 2005, citing "terrible traffic, vista-choking haze, invasive species and crowded trails." Some 9.2 million visitors come to the Smokies annually. ...

U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told a news conference before addressing the conference Monday that record new federal spending has been authorized for the national parks, including the Smokies, that will help with routine operations and special projects.

That includes a $1.5 million boost for the Smokies that will provide, beyond pay increases and the like, some 55 new seasonal rangers. In addition, new federal money to match private donations will provide $340,000 to the Smokies for exhibits for a new visitors center in Cherokee, preservation funds for historic cottages in the Elkmont district and podcasts aimed at tech-savvy young people, some of the first in the park system.

"Americans love their parks. They realize there are certain things that governments should do - (such as) provide for ongoing maintenance to the operations. That is the expectation," Kempthrone said. "But they realize that government cannot do all things. And so here is this opportunity where the government is saying, 'We would like to partner with our citizens.' "

Click here for the rest of the article.

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