Growing up, chasing fireflies was a popular after-dusk summertime activity. But our fireflies didn't blink in unison, which is what makes the fireflies at Great Smoky Mountains National Park such a big deal.
So much of a big deal, that the park has set aside this June 4-11 for special firefly viewing near the Elkmont Campground.
For this year's viewing event, the on-line ticketing system, operated through Recreation.gov, will again provide visitors with parking passes to guarantee they will be able to park at Sugarlands Visitor Center without the inconvenience of having to arrive hours in advance.
Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus; a firefly species that flashes synchronously. Access to the viewing area is provided by shuttle from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. A parking pass will be required for all vehicles wishing to attend the event.
The pass will cover a maximum of six persons in a single passenger vehicle (less than 19 feet in length). Four passes for oversize vehicles, like a mini bus (19 to 30 feet in length and up to 24 persons), will also be available. Each reservation costs $1.50. Parking passes will be non-refundable, non-transferable, and good only for the date issued. There is a limit of one parking pass per household per season. Each reservation through www.Recreation.gov will receive an e- mailed confirmation and specific information about the event.
The number of passes issued for each day will be based on the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking lot capacity. Passes will be issued with staggered arrival times in order to relieve congestion in the parking lot and for boarding the shuttles.
The shuttle buses, which are provided in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg, will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person, as in previous years, and collected when boarding the shuttle.
The shuttle service will be the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. Visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road due to safety concerns.
The parking passes for this year's event will be on sale on-line beginning at 10 a.m. on this Wednesday, April 30. The park will hold back 85 passes for each day to accommodate individuals who did not learn of the need to pre purchase tickets. The 85 passes will go on sale on-line at 10 a.m. the day before the event and will be available until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the event or until the passes are all reserved.
Passes can be purchased at www.Recreation.gov. Parking passes may also be obtained by calling 1-877-444-6777, but park officials strongly encourage the use of the on-line process, because it provides far more information to visitors about what to expect when they arrive at the park and because the process is faster and visitors are more likely to get a pass. The $1.50 reservation fee covers the cost of processing the requests for the passes. The park will not receive any revenue either from the reservations or the shuttle tickets.