Tourism Up At Mountain Parks Last Year

Tourism increased in western North Carolina's national parks last year, despite high gas prices that hovered around three dollars a gallon.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw its largest increase in tourism in five years.

The Smokies reported a two percent increase in the number of visitors in 2006, to nine-point-four (M) million people. Visitation to the park peaked in 2000 with ten (M) million visitors a year.

The Blue Ridge Parkway reported a 6 percent increase in visitors with 21 million visitors.

Officials say tourism attractions in surrounding communities and the region's proximity to metropolitan areas kept numbers high.