Forest service ready for solar eclipse visitors

From Staff Reports
Posted 8/12/17

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest are preparing for a significant increase in visitation for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

The eclipse (partial) will be visible …

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Forest service ready for solar eclipse visitors

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U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest are preparing for a significant increase in visitation for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

The eclipse (partial) will be visible throughout the United States. A 70-mile wide path of totality begins in Oregon and exits the nation at South Carolina. The southern portion of the Cherokee National Forest (Ocoee Ranger District and Tellico Ranger District) is within the path of totality.

A number of locations outside of developed recreation areas that may seem suitable for viewing the eclipse in the southern Cherokee National Forest may have environmental, safety or road access concerns associated with them. Many of these locations have rough dirt/gravel roads leading to them with limited access, parking and crowd capacity as well as, restricted traffic flow and no sanitation facilities or water. National forest visitors should expect many locations to be heavily visited with traffic delays and congestion.

Forest Service management for the eclipse is focused on public safety and protecting the natural and cultural resources. Management measures have been developed for certain potential eclipse viewing locations in the Tellico and Ocoee Ranger Districts. This information is intended to provide an overview of what visitors can expect to find at various locations regarding access, parking and traffic, any restrictions and if the location offers any amenities.

In the nearby Ocoee Ranger District, the nearest locations for viewing the eclipse from forest service sites and campgrounds is Buck Bald in Polk County, located 14 miles south of Tellico Plains, Starr Mountain in Monroe and McMinn counties, Chilhowee Mountain in Polk County and the Ocoee Scenic Byway in Polk County.

Trailers, buses, RVs and large vehicles are prohibited at Chilhowee Mountain, and the best access to Chilhowee Mountain is via the Ocoee Scenic Byway. The Chilhowee Recreation Area is located near the top of the mountain, 7.5 miles from U.S. Highway 64.

All campsites at the Chilhowee Recreation Area, which are on the reservation system, are booked for the weekend of the eclipse. There are 15 tent camping sites in the overflow area available on a first-come first- served basis. Other campgrounds in the general area that are also booked for the eclipse weekend include Parksville RV and Thunder Rock.

The narrow two-lane paved Ocoee Scenic Byway winds its way from U.S. Highway 64 to the top of Chilhowee Mountain, and there is no potable water and limited toilet facilities along National Forest Service Road 77 at the byway. There is limited parking along road and several overlooks with limited parking space. There is no camping allowed within 300 feet of NFSR 77 from Hwy. 64 to the recreation area.

The forest service expects heavy traffic and congestion on the Ocoee Scenic Byway.

The Ocoee Whitewater Center is also expected to have many more visitors than normal. The center offers an information center, restrooms, potable water, picnic sites, gift shop, native gardens, water play, hiking and biking trails. There is parking for approximately 200 vehicles ā€” user fee.

Cell service is spotty in several areas of the Ocoee District.

Other popular areas of the Cherokee National Forest where people may visit include the Cherohala Skyway and Indian Boundary Recreation Area. Heavy traffic is also expected in those areas.

There are 30 developed campgrounds, 45 day-use sites and numerous dispersed camping sites scattered throughout the 650,000 acre Cherokee National Forest. Campsites in the southern portion of the Cherokee National Forest on the reservation system are booked for the weekend of the Aug. 21 eclipse.

Forest Service officials remind visitors to be prepared for the unexpected. Bring plenty of water, food, sunscreen, insect repellant, extra clothing, first aid kit, extra flashlight batteries and anything else you might need to help make your visit safe and more enjoyable. Remember to check local weather forecasts periodically and donā€™t forget your solar eclipse viewing glasses.

Officials also remind visitors to use extreme caution when driving and parking, and pay close attention to other vehicles, pedestrians, and bikers that will be sharing the roads. Plan to arrive early at your destination so you can park safely and legally.

The goal is for national forest visitors to have a safe and enjoyable experience. To ensure safety, roadways must be kept clear for emergency vehicle use. As you travel on national forest roads, keep in mind there has to be enough space for fire trucks and ambulances to get up and down roads in case of an emergency.

Parking is not allowed in or on roads. Be very careful not to impede the flow of traffic. Parking along national forest roads is very limited. When parking on a roadside, be aware of unseen obstacles such as rocks, limbs and ditches. Be mindful of the natural resources along narrow road shoulders.

Popular areas will likely meet capacity early in the day, and visitors may be directed elsewhere. Forest Service management is focused on public safety and protecting natural and cultural resources. It will be necessary to control traffic and parking, as well as restrict vehicle access to some areas.

The Cherokee National Forest web site provides an array of eclipse information including areas where vehicle access will be restricted ā€” https://www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee/

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