“A lack of integrity” GSMNP visitors abusing park

Benny Braden with Save Our Smokies shared pictures of visitors leaving behind trash, graffiti, and hiking on restricted trails.
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 7:14 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2021 at 7:18 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - More than 13 million people visited The Great Smoky Mountain National Park last year. It is the most visited National Park in the country. Dana Soehn with the National Park Service said with the increase in visitors, they’re seeing an increase in vandalism. Including people carving names into 100-year-old logs.

“That’s not something we can repair without damaging the 100-year logs themselves,” said Soehn.

Photos taken by Benny Braden with Save Our Smokies show hikers spotted on the restricted Chimney Tops trail that is still recovering from the Gatlinburg Fires five years ago. Soehn said there is no way for the rangers to monitor everything. She is hoping people will recreate responsibly and educate themselves on ‘leave no trace’ principles.

“Parts of the trail simply are not there. There is still some movement on the slope and rocks so we ask people to please respect that closure,” said Soehn.

Braden and other volunteers with Save Our Smokies are trying to clean up trash left in the park. The group collected more than 10,000 lbs. of trash from The Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the last year.

“We’ve removed things like appliances, queen sized mattresses, showers, mannequins, but the most popular item we remove is alcohol containers,” said Braden.

Braden shared pictures and videos of the trash on social media, trying to raise awareness of the bad behavior. He mentioned the amount of graffiti has gotten worse over time. His group is looking at ways to help remove the paint safely from rocks, signage, and wood structures.

“There’s a lack of integrity, when you think that no one is watching and you’re going to do what you’re going to do and no one is going to be there to hold you accountable,” said Braden.

Braden will announce the group’s next public clean up here. You can follow the page for more information.

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