ASHEVILLE – The Blue Ridge Parkway saw a decrease of 1.3 million visitors in 2018, dropping to the second-most visited National Park System unit.
According to NPS data, 14,690,418 people visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2018, down from 16,093765 in 2017.
The Golden Gate Natural Resource Area became the most-visited NPS unit in America at 15,223,697 visits. According to the NPS, both areas have been trading places as the top two visited NPS units since 1979. Third was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in southwest North Carolina, with 11,421,000 visitors in 2018, and was the most-visited national park on the list.
“Visitation patterns on the Blue Ridge Parkway confirm that visitors access the parkway in large numbers when the parkway is accessible,” the Blue Ridge Parkway said in a March 6 statement. “Weather and maintenance-related closures continue to be the primary factor influencing parkway visitation through the years.”
The Linn Cove Viaduct, one of the most scenic locations along the parkway, was closed from March through May in 2018 due to surfacing and bridge repairs. In May, a section of U.S. 221 near Linville, part of the alternate route around the viaduct, collapsed due to heavy rains and resulted in traffic being diverted off a larger stretch of the parkway.
Other sections of the 469-mile parkway, including near Mount Mitchell, were resurfaced in 2018, resulting in gravel stretches and temporary closures.
The entire parkway was closed in mid-September 2018 due to the remnants of Hurricane Florence. Along with warmer seasonal temperatures, the High Country’s busy peak foliage season was affected by the remnants of Hurricane Michael in early October 2018.
Overall in 2018, the National Park Service reported over 318 million recreation visits; down 12.67 million visits, 3.8 percent, from 2017.
“2018 was the third highest year for recreation visits, behind 2016 and 2017,” the NPS stated.