Oconaluftee Visitor Center – First Day on My Own

OK. I wasn’t really on my own but I was no longer under Florie’s tutelage.

OVC - Dan and Rose Ranger Florie is in charge of volunteers at the desk but she doesn’t work on Mondays. Instead, Dan, a seasonal ranger pictured above, opens the building at 8:30 now. An intern and several Great Smoky Mountains Association employees were also there. Rose, pictured above with Dan, is a Monday regular.

It was extremely quiet when I arrived at 10 A.M. and I thought, foolishly, that it would be boring. When there’s no one around, there’s plenty of material to read. The most fascinating is the “Info book”, also called the “Answer book”. It’s organized in alphabetic tabs so we can find answers to esoteric questions. Even more fascinating to me are answers to questions I never thought to ask.

So I got to “F”. Why is there no fee entrance in the Smokies?

We’re one of the few National Parks without an entrance fee. The common belief is that because the land was bought from the settlers and the park was supposedly for the people, a promise was made that there would  never be an entrance fee. A nice story but with no legal standing.

The real answer is the following – When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Rd., it stipulated that “no toll or license fee shall be imposed … to travel the road.” At the time, Newfound Gap Rd. was the major route crossing the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Let’s remember this last fact for a minute.

No such problem on the North Carolina side. North Carolina transferred its road through abandonment so there are no restrictions there.

OVC - Snow and ConstructionAt about 11 A.M., it started snowing. No construction work today.

Snow wasn’t sticking but the white stuff was coming down steadily so the Park closed Newfound Gap Rd. Visitors starting coming in steadily as well, asking how to get to Gatlinburg. I pulled out the map that the Park had devised to show the I-40 closure and showed them that they had to go to Asheville and around the mountain through Hot Springs and Newport.

“Asheville?” some fumed. “We just came from Asheville.” I sympathized and added that this was one of the challenges of living in the mountains. From then, it was very busy as people wanted to find some secret back road so they wouldn’t have to do the drive-around. There is none. It’s three hours around the Park to get back to Gatlinburg.

“Maybe you can stay in Cherokee,” I suggested. “It looks pretty good for tomorrow and you can enjoy the attractions in Cherokee.” Almost no one took me up on the idea.

At 2 P.M., the snow was still coming down and I decided that it was silly to roam the trails today since no one was going to be there so I headed home. I took the back road around the Cherokee Hospital to US 441. It seems that everyone gives me suggestions on how to avoid driving in Cherokee.

Hopefully, the weather will be better next Monday.



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