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story.lead_photo.caption As visitors flock to Northwest Arkansas to see the fall foliage, the crowds have caused increased traffic congestion and parking problems, authorities said. - Photo by Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Authorities in Northwest Arkansas reported increased traffic congestion and illegal parking over the weekend as pleasant weather and fall foliage drew a greater number of visitors to the area.

Newton County Sheriff-elect Glenn Wheeler said he could not quantify the increase, but his office has noticed a gradual surge in fall visitors over the past few years.

"The roads and highways were substantially busier than normal," he said of last weekend. "It's not a typical small-town problem. It was crazy for our little community."

The most prominent problem area was along Cave Mountain Road near the Hawksbill Crag trailhead, Wheeler said.

Cars parking along both sides of the roadway slowed travel for residents and patrol units, with one deputy reporting that it took 40 minutes to travel a stretch that typically takes less than 5 minutes.

The traffic and parked cars also made the roadway impassable for big trucks, tractors or emergency vehicles -- such as ambulances and firetrucks. Wheeler said authorities encountered a similar problem last year when a hiker was injured on the trail. An ambulance had to stop a few miles from the trailhead because of the traffic, which delayed help arriving to care for the hiker, he said.

photo
Crowds gather Saturday evening in the Boxley Valley in the hopes of viewing grazing elk. Authorities say outdoor tourism has increased in recent years, causing traffic congestion and parking problems.

After that, signs were put up to notify drivers that vehicles obstructing the roadway in that area would be ticketed or towed. However, the problem has persisted.

Five Newton County deputies issued 15 citations Saturday to the most egregious violators whose vehicles blocked the roadway in ways that posed a danger to others.

"They didn't just write tickets to everyone who had parked up there -- just the ones that were literally creating a public hazard and blocking emergency vehicle access," Wheeler said.

Another problem area was Arkansas 43 between Boxley and Ponca in Newton County, where vehicles stopped in the roadway so drivers could view grazing herds of elk.

Crowds gathered Saturday evening in the Boxley Valley in the hopes of seeing the elk.

Authorities say outdoor tourism has increased in the area in recent years, and that's causing the traffic problems.

"In the Smoky Mountains, they have bear jams, but here in Arkansas, we have elk jams," Wheeler said. "It was gridlock at times. You don't think of Ponca when you think of gridlock."

The National Park Service assigned officers to direct traffic in Boxley Valley and remove vehicles that had parked in people's yards and on other private property, the sheriff said.

The agency, through the Boxley Valley Comprehensive Area Plan, is taking steps to improve visitor safety during elk-viewing season. The plan calls for installation of more signs about elk-viewing locations and construction of more pull-off parking, something that's being done in conjunction with the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Gallery: Fall Foliage from Arkansas Parks and Tourism

Tourist traffic is expected to remain high through the end of the month as trees in the rolling hills continue to change colors, according to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism fall colors report.

In the latest report, published Nov. 1, officials said the color change is underway in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, and will continue through mid-November in Northwest Arkansas.

Peak foliage is underway now in central and western Arkansas, while the Delta and southern regions will see the colors-change peak by the middle of this month, the report states.

Wheeler said that while the county welcomes tourists and encourages them to visit, they need to respect local residents and help ensure everyone's safety.

Metro on 11/08/2018

Print Headline: Elk, foliage attract visitors, raise traffic woes in part of state

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