New Oconoluftee visitor center opens near Cherokee

The new Oconoluftee visitor center opened on April 1, and in 24 hours it already had 4000 visitors. The center is the most popular gateway to the Smoky Mountains National Park from North Carolina and around 39 percent of the parks traffic goes through this park entrance.

The visitor center is the first new visitor center constructed in the park since the 1960’s. The former visitor center, which sits adjacent to the new center is a 1700 square foot facility that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The new building was the first building constructed in North Carolina that will be used explicitly as a full service visitor center, it is 6300 square feet and sits adjacent to a new 1700 square foot comfort station.

The new building also houses a store, featuring literature and other Smoky Mountain related memorabilia.

“It’s really great, I was able to buy some seeds in the visitor center store. I’ll be able to take them home and plant them. I’ll have a little slice of the Smokys in my backyard,” said Sue Griffith, a visitor from Springfield, Missouri.

The project was funded by private donations from the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smoky Mountains. The associations combined to donate around 3 Million dollars to complete the complex. The interior was paid for by the Friends of the Smoky Mountains National Park.

The interior features a visitor orientation area and museum showing the parks pre-historic times, the first European settlers, logging, the Park’s creation and the involvement of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The new visitor center was designed to be a model of energy sustainability and efficiency. The facility uses geothermal wells, solartube lighting, rainwater collectors and extensive amounts of recycled building materials.