Record-breaking visits, Great Smoky Mountain National Park is perfect engagement spot

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – In 2021, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw a record 14.1 million visits, an increase of 1.5 million from the previous record set in 2019.

”It’s inspiring that so many people want to spend time in the park and they care about the park and they want to feel connected to the park,” said park spokesperson Dana Soehn.

On a cold January day, the park was still bustling with visitors stopping at overlooks and taking in the remaining winter weather on the mountain peaks.

”It’s beautiful. You don’t see this in Florida for sure, it’s a different environment for us,” said Kim Durham.

Durham and her family were in East Tennessee visiting from Florida.

The four made the trip to see the snow, and to enjoy Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

”It’s beautiful and like I said a climate change for sure for us and taking in the sights,” said Gerardo Rios.

Looking down onto Gatlinburg below, one spot along the bypass into the park set up the perfect place for a proposal.

”I always wanted to do a beautiful view, and I came to Gatlinburg for a beautiful view,” said Antonio Perez who had come up to the parking lot to ask his girlfriend, Tara Paugh, to marry him.

Coming to town from Savannah, Georgia the now fiancé, booked a local photographer to take their pictures after the big moment and chronicle this big ask in the relationship of the couple.

”To come here and look at it and try it if they have to because it’s gorgeous,” said Perez.

Antonio Perez and his now fiancé Tara Paugh got engaged in the Great Smoky Mountains National...
Antonio Perez and his now fiancé Tara Paugh got engaged in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Friday.(WVLT)

While park officials were proud to boast the record numbers, they added it brings a risk involved.

Soehn said the park was designed to support possibly one-third of the numbers it is accommodating today, forcing officials to recommend visitors to plan their trips to the park ahead of time, and ‘think like a park ranger’.

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