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Annual Firefly Show Begins in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

GATLINBURG -- What do Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Malaysian jungles have in common? Haven't a twinkling of an idea? It's the presence of synchronous fireflies! During the first weeks of June, an annual lightshow, put on by Mother Nature's night-lights, illuminate areas of the National Park. This year the non-profit organization Discover Life in America is holding a number of events for the public to experience this natural wonder and learn more about the mystery behind the synchronous fireflies.

"We know of 19 species of fireflies (actually they're a unique group of beetles) currently inhabiting the Park," states park curator Adriean Mayor. "There are 12 species that 'flash' and 7 species with no 'flash'." This "flashing" phenomenon is caused by a chemical reaction in the fireflies' lower abdominal organs called bioluminescence.

Now you might be wondering: Why don't the fireflies in my backyard synchronize? What makes the fireflies in the park so special? All of your question and more will be answered by attending any of the following events:

On June 10th and 11th, starting at 7:30 pm and ending at 11:00 pm, DLIA is holding a fund-raising event at Norton Creek Sanctuary near Gatlinburg, TN. With exclusive access to the property and a firefly expert on site, you will be able to learn the answers to your questions while enjoying the amazing display first hand. Food (heavy hors d'oeuvres) and drink (beer and wine) will be provided, so come out and enjoy this nighttime picnic with the fireflies! There will be a short walk to the site and be prepared for possible inclement weather. (Reservations required – space is very limited. Call 865-430.-4756 for tickets! The cost is $75 per person.)

On June 11th, from 11 am to 4 pm, the annual Firefly Festival will be held at the Nantahala Outdoor Center Great Outpost in Gatlinburg, TN. A free event for the general public, there will be live music provided by Captain Firefly, artwork, an insect zoo, kid's activities, and a secret bioluminescence room, along with local food and drink vendors. At 1 pm and again at 3 pm, there will be a presentation on the synchronous firefly phenomenon in the Smokies. This day promises to be a family favorite!

Finally, on June 12th, the final firefly event will be held at the Park Grill! After food and drink, along with a firefly presentation, we will carpool to a secret site in the park. There will be a short hike involved and again, be prepared for inclement weather. The event starts at 7:30 pm at the Park Grill and ends by 11:00 pm. (Reservations required – space is very limited. Call 865.430.4756 for tickets! The cost is $50 per person.)

Please join Discover Life in America at any of these events to learn about and experience the rare firefly phenomenon, unique to our very own Smoky Mountain National Park.

The daily schedule for the firefly show at Elkmont is June 4-12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials will close the Elkmont entrance road to motor vehicles and pedestrian use every night from 5:00 p.m. until midnight, June 4-12, except to registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. The closure is to accommodate transportation service for visitors planning to spend the evening viewing the natural-occurring, synchronous firefly beetles at Elkmont.

The City of Gatlinburg, in partnership with the Park, will provide the trolleys for the firefly show. The trolley service, coinciding with the expected peak flashing period, will be the sole transportation mode for visitor access during this period; no private vehicles will be allowed to enter Elkmont.

For safety purposes, restrictions will be in place to prohibit motor vehicles from parking along roadsides, pullouts, or any other areas besides at the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area for the purposes of viewing fireflies at Elkmont. Only those visitors parking at the visitor center will be allowed to ride the trolleys. Because of safety concerns, visitors will not be allowed to walk the Elkmont entrance road.

The trolleys will begin picking up visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center RV/bus parking area at 7 p.m. The trolleys will run continually until the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area is full or until 9 p.m., whichever comes first. The last trolley to return visitors from Elkmont to the Sugarlands Visitor Center is scheduled at 11 p.m. The cost will be $1 round trip per person as in previous years.

For those riding the trolleys, it is recommended that visitors bring flashlights with red cellophane covers to reduce white light. Visitors can bring lawn chairs, and carry food and water in backpacks which can fit on their laps in the trolleys; there are no services available at the site. Visitors are prohibited from bringing coolers, alcoholic beverages, or their pets.

Sources: Discover Life in America and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Published June 5, 2011

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