The Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives over 9 million visitors each year. For the last 63 years, people entering the park at its most popular North Carolina gateway near Cherokee have been served by a visitor center housed in a building constructed in 1941 that was originally meant to be office space.
But this year, park visitors will be welcomed by the brand new Oconoluftee Visitor Center, a 6,300 square foot facility that offers visitor information and orientation to the park, with exhibits that depict the long history of the parkland, from prehistoric times to the 20th century, and a store.
The building was designed as a model of energy efficiency, with geothermal wells, solartube lighting, rainwater collectors and the extensive use of recycled construction materials.
The $3+ million project was funded by the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area awarded a $20,000 grant to the Friends in support of the creation of the interpretive exhibits in the museum.