Smokies Visits Top 9 Million

A surge in December traffic in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park kept visits above 9 million for 2011, but by a scant margin.

Figures released by the National Park Service on Thursday showed 9,008,831 visitors last year came to the most-visited of the nation’s national parks. The number was down nearly a half-million people from 2010.

Park officials said December brought 471,603 visitors as unusually warm weather prevailed. That compared with 342,512 in December 2010 which had harsh conditions.

Reasons for the 4.8 percent yearly decline were speculative, but park officials said the Smokies might have benefited in 2010 by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as many vacationers avoided the beaches.