HomeOutdoorsParksPrescribed Fires Coming to Great Smoky Mountains National Park This Spring: What to Know

Prescribed Fires Coming to Great Smoky Mountains National Park This Spring: What to Know

by Jon D. B.
Great Smoky Mountains Cades Cove Fire
Prescribe Burn Operations in Cades Cove Fields, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: NPS, GRSM Media Release)

Areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park‘s beloved Cades Cove will be set ablaze this spring during prescribed burns. Here’s everything you need to know, straight from the park.

Black bears, deer, turkeys, ground-nesting birds, and all manner of Appalachian species benefit when plants they depend on for food and cover are rejuvenated using seasonal prescribed fire. In kind, Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM) and Appalachian Piedmont Coastal Fire Management Zone staff plan to burn approximately 925 acres of fields in the Cades Cove area.

Weather permitting, burn operations will occur between Monday, February 13 and Friday, March 3, the park states in their media release to Outsider.

“We are fortunate to have assistance from Conservation Legacy wildland firefighters for our spring prescribed fires,” offers Fire Management Officer Brian Tonihka. “Their skilled application of prescribed fire is critical to the health of the natural ecosystem at Cades Cove and the safety of our visitors.”

This restoration work aids the Tennessee side of the park’s ecosystem in crucial ways. But it can also deter visitors to the area for weeks at a time. This is why GRSM aims to complete their spring burn in the lower-visitation period of Feb. 13 – Mar. 3.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove Burn Map

As the park’s map shows, burns will take place in Cades Cove’s Maple Branch, Tipton Oliver, and Cemetery Marsh areas.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cades Cove Planned Prescribed Burns Map. 2022-2023. Produced by APC Zone Fire Management. (Credit: NPS, GRSM Media Release)

“The three units are the last to be treated with prescribed fire in the Cades Cove area this prescribed fire season,” park officials note.

Great Smoky Mountains Firefighters would successfully burn about 250 acres last fall in the Cable House and Sparks units. Those fires targeted woody plant species that were encroaching into the fields.

Over the last 20 years, prescribed burns have safely reduced fuels, restore meadow habitats, and maintain the historic landscape of Cades Cove. “Park staff closely monitor fire weather conditions including vegetation and soil moisture, wind speed and direction, temperature, and relative humidity to ensure that conditions meet the burn plan objectives for the site,” the park explains.

How Cades Cove Burns Affect Visiting the Park

Please note: Cades Cove Loop Road and historic structures will remain open to visitors during burn operations, park officials cite. But brief delays may occur to ensure public safety.

Sparks Lane may be closed, however, and other temporary road closures or traffic control may come. “Especially if crews and equipment are working along the edge of the road or if smoke causes unsafe driving conditions,” GRSM adds.

As a result, Great Smoky Mountains Visitors should expect to see firefighters and equipment along the loop road, Sparks Lane, and Hyatt Lane. Fire managers also ask that motorists reduce speed in work zones. Please refrain from stopping in the roadways, as well. If smoke is present, motorists should roll up windows and turn on headlights.

The weather and precipitation forecast for East Tennessee over the next few weeks will impact prescription parameters. Always check weather conditions and park wildfire information before visiting.

For more information on the use of prescribed burns in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit the park website here.