Knoxville/ Parks & Nature
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Published on April 23, 2024
Lottery Opens for Spectacle of Synchronous Fireflies in the Great Smoky MountainsSource: Firefly Photos by Radim Schreiber;, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get your picnic baskets and headlamps ready because the Great Smoky Mountains are once again set to light up with the glow of the annual synchronous fireflies event. From June 3 to June 10, nature enthusiasts can witness the spectacle of Photinus carolinus – the only species of fireflies in America that can synchronize their flashing light patterns – at the Elkmont section of the park. But hold your horses, because snagging a spot for this illuminating display isn't as easy as showing up. As announced by the National Park Service, visitors have to enter a lottery for a coveted vehicle reservation, starting April 26.

For those interested in witnessing the natural light show, the lottery opens up at 10 a.m. EDT sharp on Friday, April 26, and will close just before midnight on April 29. There's a strict limit of 1120 vehicle reservations, doled out at 140 per night, to keep the throngs of humans at bay while these tiny creatures do their mating dance. Those lucky enough to win the lottery will be notified by May 6, ensuring that their summer plans are either spectacularly lit or disappointingly dark. And before you ask, no, walking or biking into the area won't fly after 4 p.m. – this rule is all about safety and keeping the peace in firefly town.

If you want to participate, you need to pay a dollar. If you win the lottery and get a reservation, you'll need to pay an additional $24. This fee covers the cost of amenities such as portable restrooms and staff who manage the event. Remember, reservations cannot be transferred or refunded, and they are only valid for the date they are issued. Each household is only allowed one chance to participate in the lottery per season, so make it count. You can choose two dates from the eight-day period, but you can only participate once.

According to the National Park's announcement, the viewing opportunity is restricted to those with reservations, campers at Elkmont, or backcountry visitors with a permit – no exceptions. If you're thinking about an overnight stakeout at the nearby trailheads, scratch that unless you've got a backcountry permit. It's all about keeping it orderly and giving those fireflies their space to shine without turning their world into a human circus.