Nearly half a million visitors made their way to the Great Smoky Mountains in January 2019, shattering the national park's previous record for the month by 30 percent.

The month may have initially seemed far from an ideal time for visitation in the Smokies.  The partial federal government shutdown left the park with a skeleton crew and limited services for several weeks.  Some spells of severe weather forced the park to close roads for several days, including U.S. 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, N.C.

So, when the visitation numbers were compiled, it made the longtime employees do a double-take.

"In January 2019, we saw the busiest January on record here in the Smokies," said Jamie Sanders, GSMNP spokesperson.  "Almost 497,000 people visited the park in January.  When compared to January 2018, it was about a 55 percent increase."

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