GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the cancellation of the annual synchronous firefly viewing event due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Park officials the cancellation on Tuesday in a continuing effort to support federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and to adhere to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every year in late May or early June, thousands of visitors from across the country gather near the popular Elkmont Campground to observe the naturally occurring phenomenon of Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously.

In 2019, 28,958 people from all 50 states and 19 countries entered the lottery for shuttle access to view the fireflies at Elkmont. An estimated 1,000 people view the fireflies each night, including participants from the lottery and campground users.

“The synchronous firefly viewing area at Elkmont simply isn’t spacious enough to safely allow hundreds of people to gather under the current health guidance,” said Superintendent Cash. “While disappointing, the safety of our employees, volunteers, and visitors continues to be our number one priority.”

The shuttle service to the event would not support current CDC guidelines, particularly the six-feet distancing requirement between individuals. The shuttle service is the only transportation mode for visitor access during this period, except for registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground. At this time, Elkmont Campground remains closed.