|Tuesday, Aug 9, 2005|
The second phase of the Cades Cove Development Concept and Transportation Management Plan, the long-term visioning process for Cades Cove, has begun.
Cades Cove, a 6,500-acre valley, is a popular destination for a majority of the Park's visitors. Cades Cove contains farmsteads that date from the 19th and early 20th Centuries and provides good wildlife viewing opportunities. Over time, visitation to the Cove has grown yet the facilities that support visitor use, including the 11-mile one way loop road, remain largely unchanged. Traffic congestion and inadequate visitor facilities are among the issues now faced in Cades Cove. Park managers with the help of partners and the public embarked on a planning process in 2001 to develop a plan to implement changes that will ensure the protection of the significant resources while ensuring a quality experience for visitors consistent with the National Park Service mission.
Wilbur Smith Associates is leading the consulting team for the Phase II project with management oversight once again by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization. In Phase II, the five existing preliminary alternatives that were developed in Phase I, with extensive public involvement, will be further detailed, refined, and evaluated. These preliminary alternatives include one "no action" alternative and four combinations of new approaches to resource management, visitor facilities, transportation options and other factors affecting the visitor's experience in the Cove. These alternatives are described in detail and information about them can be obtained by visiting the project's website, www.cadescoveplanning.com.
Phase II will be conducted over a 22-month period and will provide the technical analysis to determine if the final alternatives considered represent the possible range of alternatives by evaluating their feasibility, cost and environmental, socio and economical impacts. The results of Phase II will be used during a third project phase to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
The Phase II process will incorporate a National Park Service planning tool known as Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP). VERP is used to provide a better understanding of complex issues of visitor use management and carrying capacity-the types and levels of visitor use that can be accommodated while maintaining acceptable resource and social conditions. "VERP is simply a measurement tool to help assess the level of impact the resources can sustain while also providing a good visitor experience," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "This data collection is another step in helping us to better evaluate the alternatives and their usefulness to reach future management goals for the Cove by answering such questions as how sensitive is the resource, how limited is the space, and at what level does public enjoyment diminish," he continued.
Visitor surveying will start on Wednesday at several locations within the Park and will be a key element of the VERP effort. Three surveys will be presented to the public--one to collect basic information on where they go and what they do; another to ask more in depth questions such as how they view conditions in the Cove related to traffic, crowding, and facility availability; and a third to capture information from visitors who do not have plans to visit the Cove. All of these surveys will have basic demographic information as well. Visitors will be randomly approached and asked to take the time to fill out the surveys.
The DEIS is expected in 2008, pending funding availability. The DEIS will present the range of alternatives evaluated and the impacts and benefits of each. The alternative ultimately selected for implementation may combine elements of several alternatives studied. Depending on the outcome of the decision, more complex elements of the selected alternative may require additional work before implementation can begin. "This is a dynamic process," said Superintendent Ditmanson, "and we will continue to keep the public informed and updated on the project so that they will have a chance to provide their input and comment as we continue to move closer to a decision."
Once the impact assessment is largely completed in Phase II, the next set of public meetings will be held, tentatively scheduled in summer 2006. In the meantime, interested persons will be able to get updated information as it becomes available, along with background information on the project, the Phase I report with alternatives, and the newsletter announcing Phase II, by visiting the Cove planning project website at www.cadescoveplanning.com. Comments may be made at the website or by writing to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.