SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to be America's most visited national park into the new year.
Data for 2020 visitations show that 12,095,720 million people stopped by to pay a visit. That comes close to the 2019 all-time record of 12.5 million.
The number of people who visited the Smokies in 2020 now sets the second-highest record for visitation, despite being closed for more than 40 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's America's most visited national park," said Leon Downey with the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.
Those high numbers also meant a lot of traffic through Sevierville, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Downey said even with a lot of changes in 2020, the area continues to be a top destination.
"We're just thankful the park did as well as it did, to have such a strong anchor here that people associate it with a safe place to visit," he said.
He also said that data shows 80% of visitors are repeat guests in their area. Many are children who once visited when they were little returning to show their children the highlights of East Tennessee.
"Our work is cut out for us on the fundraising side," said Sarah Herron with Friends of the Smokies. "It's a sacred space for us to go and get fresh air and it's right in our backyard."
She said more guests coming to the means more work to raise money maintaining it.
"It's free to go there but it's not free to maintain," she said.
However, officials said there are continued efforts are in place to keep the park functioning.
"Every dollar that is donated makes a huge difference in making sure our park stays pristine and the park can keep up with the maintenance as more and more come to enjoy our mountains," said Herron.
Both hope people gained a new appreciation for what's in their backyard.
October was the highest month for visitation for the park with 1.7 million people coming through.