The Secret is Out – Taking a look inside Big South Fork’s increased visitation

Autumn colorful foliage over lake with beautiful woods in red and yellow color.

Hard work yields results.

That might be the best way to assess the current increase in visitation to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, which park superintendent Niki S. Nicholas attributes to a variety of factors — some of them outside the control of local park and community leaders and some of them very much the result of actions taken by those local leaders.

Visitation to the Big South Fork from January to July of this year was up 23.3 percent over the same time period in 2016. That comes on the heels of research finding that annual visitation to the park was up 6.5 percent in 2016, as compared to 2015.

“There is no one smoking gun, so to speak,” Nicholas said, pointing to cheap gas prices, public relations related to the National Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016, and the affiliation of the BSF with the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, which the superintendent said is exposing a more urban audience to not only the BSF but its sister park in Morgan County, the Obed Wild & Scenic River.

And, Nicholas said, “a lot of changes we’re making are finally starting to pay off.”

A strategic advantage

There is no magic formula to drawing visitors to the Big South Fork, Nicholas said. “It’s not like chemistry, where you put A plus B and you get C. It doesn’t work like that.”

Instead, she said, the approach is a result of constantly “tinkering” to improve what works and fix what doesn’t.

And that doesn’t happen just by chance.

“We went into strategic planning mode about five (read more)

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