2002 - The Year No One Died in GSMNP

There is an old joke among history buffs involving realistic-looking plaques or historical markers that read, “On this site in 1884, nothing happened.” A similar joke could be made by park safety officers and law enforcement statisticians about Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2002. It would read, “In this national park in 2002, nobody died.”

As you may have already assumed, it is very unusual to go an entire year in a national park that receives millions of annual visitors and not have a single person expire from natural causes, accidents, suicide or foul play.

Smoky Mountain Mystery
2002 - The Year No One Died in GSMNP

There is an old joke among history buffs involving realistic-looking plaques or historical markers that read, “On this site in 1884, nothing happened.” A similar joke could be made by park safety officers and law enforcement statisticians about Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2002. It would read, “In this national park in 2002, nobody died.”

As you may have already assumed, it is very unusual to go an entire year in a national park that receives millions of annual visitors and not have a single person expire from natural causes, accidents, suicide or foul play.

In fact, according to the upcoming book by David Brill (GSMA 2017) “Into the Mist: Tales of Death & Disaster in GSMNP,” in 1993 alone, 11 people died in the park. Two people drowned that year, one fell off a cliff, seven died in automobile accidents, and one committed suicide.

Sixteen people lost their lives in the park in 1986, the park’s deadliest year. One was murdered, two died of heart attacks, and 13 died in nine separate automobile accidents. Five of those accidents, by the way, were on “The Spur,” a five-mile section of U.S. 441 and the Foothills Parkway that connects Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Though only a short stretch of road, the curvy, heavily traveled route is certainly one of the deadliest places in the entire park.

In 1934, the very first year the park was opened, 12 people died here. Four were Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees killed in accidents involving motor vehicles. Five others were CCC or other workers killed on the job and one was a CCC worker who drowned. Likewise, in 1933, the year before the park was officially established, five people were killed in accidents involving construction of the infrastructure for the park, two were murdered, and one died in a motor vehicle accident.

But in 2002, nobody died. Six died in 2001, and the same number perished in 2003. What was so special about 2002?

Park visitation that year was about average for the decade at 9.3 million. Gas prices were relatively low at $1.35 per gallon (a factor since lower gas prices often mean more driving and more traffic fatalities). Perhaps Americans, reeling from the recent 9/11 attacks, a war in Afghanistan, and an economic recession, were just more careful? Or maybe it was just a run of much-needed good luck.

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