GATLINBURG (WATE) – Officials in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say some areas are in desperate need of repair, but there might not be enough money to fix them.
One of the most well traveled roads in the Smokies, Newfound Gap Road, is one of the few things about to see repair. Things will slow down a bit Monday as crews begin paving about four miles starting at Sugarlands Visitors Center.
It has not been done since the 1980s.
“You’re looking at single lane closures that will definitely affect traffic some during that time period,” said park spokesperson Caitlin Worth.
They are hoping to have that work done by mid-June. It is just one project on a list of things that need to be done within the Smokies, but the National Park Service says $11.5 billion worth of estimated projects are being put on the back burner nationwide because there is not enough funding.
Nearly $200 million of that is in the Smokies.
‘The reality of the situation is that our visitorship is increasing across the National Park Service, and that means that these facilities, and roads, and waste water treatment centers are deteriorating across the park service,” said Worth.
Rebuilding Sugarlands Visitors Center is on that list. It will cost about $24 million, but park officials say it is worth the price tag to fit the increasing number of visitors each year.
“Sugarlands sees about a million visitors a year, and at this point we really could use at least a renovation in order to better serve all of those visitors especially those that have mobility impairments or are visually or hearing impaired,” said Worth.
To go right along with renovating the visitors center, park officials say they need more parking. April is not even the busiest time of year, and most of the parking spots were full Wednesday.
“I think we’re definitely at the point where the visitors center that was built in the 60s is definitely not serving the number of visitors or the types of visitors that we really need to serve at this point,” said Worth.
They have already filed for that money to rebuild Sugarlands, but say it is a lengthy process to determine if they will get it.
With the number of projects already being pushed back, it is not looking likely.
“I think that we have definitely gotten into the mode of trying to make due and work with the money we have in order to get by with it,” said Worth.
Other renovation plans being pushed back within the park include work on park headquarters that would cost about $7 million and work on the waste water treatment plants to get them up to capacity.