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Renovations To Upgrade Sugarlands Visitor Center In Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Among Sugarlands Visitor Center improvements shown in this artist's rendering, visitors will see an exhibit area entry arch (upper left arrow) that will be printed on acoustic dampening material to reduce lobby noise in the museum. A new visitor information desk (center) will feature an ADA-approved counter that permits wheelchairs to pull under the tabletop. NPS image.

Starting today, the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, undergoes renovations to improve the layout of the main lobby and visitor contact area.

The building will remain open to the public through March 31, the expected date of completion for the improvements. The much needed renovations are intended “to better serve the 850,000 thousand visitors who come through the visitor center annually,” said a National Park Service release.

Not only will the new visitor contact area create a sense of arrival—it will also be easier to access for visitors, “many of whom find the current museum entrance to be difficult to locate,” says park spokesperson Molly Schroer. “This renovation will alleviate that problem.”

New park information and interactive exhibits will enhance visitor orientation as visitors get a much improved introduction to park resources. Along with an improved lighting system, the new visitor information desk and interpretive exhibits will have more open space, permitting better circulation for guests and improved overall accessibility. New interactive exhibits in the lobby will focus attention on the park’s recent natural resource challenges, such as like air quality and forest health. In addition, access to the existing museum’s popular natural history exhibits will be improved. Sustainable products will be used in the renovations.

Antiquated Facilities

The Sugarlands Visitor Center was built in 1960 as a part of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 efforts—which explains why the current building design and informational displays “are very dated,” Ms. Schroer says.

Up until 2011, when the brand new Oconaluftee Visitor Center was constructed, Sugarlands was the only visitor center in the Smokies that was built specifically as a visitor center. With nearly one million annual visitors utilizing the facility’s services, the park wants to create an area that is a useful and pleasant experience for all.

The changes at Sugarlands occur as an opportunity to offer park visitors an experience a little more akin to the cutting edge experience now afforded by the park’s new Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee.

Construction Details

Construction work will be concentrated between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, now through the end of March. During this time period, the natural history museum portion of the visitor center will be closed to the public. All other services, including general information, the park film, and the bookstore will remain available. The park says visitors should expect to see construction work throughout the 3-month period.

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