GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Fire Management personnel at Great Smoky Mountains National Park plan to conduct a series of prescribed burns of fields in Cades Cove Monday through Friday, November 5th through 9th if weather conditions permit. Park managers plan to burn several tracts totaling about 570 acres.
The selected fields are being burned as part of a cost-effective strategy to prevent the open fields from being reclaimed by forest. The Park contracts to mow about 950 acres of fields that are clearly visible from the Cades Cove Loop Road twice a year. Other fields that are less visible from the Loop Road, totaling around 1,500 acres, are kept open by burning or mowing on a three year rotation. The seasonal prescribed burns encourage the growth of native warm-season grasses providing high quality cover and foraging opportunities for a diversity of wildlife including deer, turkeys, and ground nesting birds.
Without being either mowed or burned, the open meadows of the Cove would very quickly revert to pine and hardwood forest. That process would both alter the historically open landscape that characterized the Cove during its period of settlement and deprive Park visitors of the excellent wildlife viewing opportunities often found in the Cove.
The burn will be conducted by park Fire and Resource Management staff. Firefighters and fire engines will be assigned each day to ignite the grass lands and to make sure the fire stays within its designated boundaries. Strips of grass surrounding each field slated for burning have been mowed short to provide containment lines.
Cades Cove Loop Road will remain open but visitors may experience brief delays due to smoke or other safety concerns as fire fighters work adjacent to roadways. “Motorists are asked to reduce speed in work zones and if smoke is present, keep windows up and headlights on,” said Fire Management Officer Dave Loveland. “The public, of course, will notice smoke in the valley but it will dissipate quickly and not unduly impact their visit,” he said.