Push is on for New Carolina Welcome Center to Park

Gatlinburg, Tenn. (AP) -- A proposal to replace the visitor center on the North Carolina side of the Smokies will be presented next week.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee has been in need of upgrading for years.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokeswoman Nancy Gray says the building was never intended to welcome visitors. It was built in 1941 as a ranger station and a federal magistrate's court room.

The center is the second-busiest among the three in the park. The Sugarlands Center near Gatlinburg gets the most traffic, followed by Oconaluftee, then the Cades Cove Center near Townsend.

Two groups whose work benefit the park are working together to pay for a new center, the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The proposal to build a new 6,500-square-foot center at Oconaluftee will be presented to the public at 6:30 p.m. on July 19th at the current center.

Early feedback is positive. Among groups responding are the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, which supports the proposal.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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