If you've ever driven through Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you know how slow that can be due to all the vehicles trying to negotiate the 11-mile loop road. Well, things are going to be a bit easier now thanks to a shuttle service that debuted today.
The shuttle service, operating as Cades Cove Heritage Tours, not only let someone else do the driving so you can spend more time looking, but also come with a guide who provides historical interpretation of the cove.
There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning in Townsend, Tennessee, for the shuttle service. It's long been needed, as Cades Cove attracts nearly 2 million visitors and 800,000 vehicles each year. Along with aiming to reduce some of that traffic, the shuttle service should help improve the cove's air quality.
“Visitors who take a tour with us will not only learn about the rich mountain history and unique natural resources of Cades Cove, but will also feel good about how their choice affects the environment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” says Alex Roche, manager of Cades Cove Heritage Tours.
The shuttles are 19-passenger, fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles and are ADA compliant. Public tours will cost $13 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children 6 and older. Kids under 6 ride for free. Currently, the tours will operate daily, leaving the Depot at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., and last approximately three hours. (The Depot is located next to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center between the traffic light and the national park entrance on state Highway 73 in Townsend.)
The endeavor to start the non-profit began over a year ago when local community members and non-profits came together at the request of Randy Boyd, CEO of Radio Systems Corporation. “I was frustrated with the congestion, pollution, and lack of history provided about Cades Cove. Rather than just complaining, we started Cades Cove Heritage Tours in the hope of making a difference,” says Mr. Boyd.
The Cades Cove project has brought together the local community to address the concerns of increased traffic and visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For example, local citizens Tom Talley and Richard Maples offered use of land adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to make this project possible, and Wilma Maples provided an authentic 1800s log cabin for the Depot Center. Additional project partners include the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We are a proud to be a partner of Cades Cove Heritage Tours. This project shows that American citizens can design solutions that benefit our national parks, without compromising the integrity of gateway communities,” said Alissa McMahon, program analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We recognize that two vehicles will initially make a small dent on the traffic of Cades Cove,” says Mr. Boyd. “As this service grows, we’re looking to the local community and national park visitors to help us shape the future direction of Cades Cove Heritage Tours.”
The number of shuttles was chosen in order to test if this type of project could successfully operate in the national park. Plans to increase the service will be based on how many visitors choose to ride and on the type of feedback received from surveys; a multi-year grant from the ALCOA Foundation will fund this analysis.
“We realize not everybody wishes to take an organized tour into the national park, but we believe many folks who visit Cades Cove are interested in an interpretation of what they're seeing. Gatlinburg, Tenn. and Cherokee, N.C. have already been offering alternative transportation options to their national park visitors. Townsend can only benefit from offering this type of genuine heritage tourism,” says Herb Handly, executive vice president of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Cades Cove Heritage Tours is operating as a division of the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend. The Heritage Center seeks to preserve, protect, and promote the unique history and rich culture of the residents and Native Americans who inhabited the East Tennessee mountain communities that were incorporated into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surroundings.
You can learn more about the shuttle service at this site or by calling 865-448-8838.