- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Crowds are threatening to overwhelm a South Carolina park that features lightning bugs as they put on a nighttime show.

The State of Columbia reports (http://bit.ly/2qCN346) some visitors say they left Congaree National Park in frustration last year after encountering traffic snarls, overzealous observers and not enough park staff to manage the crowds.

“There was nowhere to park in the parking lot and there was nobody directing traffic; it was a total mess,” Irmo resident Dick Sharpe said. “Then, once you got into the park, people were tramping through the woods, they had flashlights out and they were trying to take flash pictures of the fireflies. It ruined the experience.”

After hearing the complaints, National Park Service officials say they plan to increase staffing to control traffic and large crowds attracted by the fireflies between now and early June. In the past, the park has not been staffed during the firefly show.

“We are going to have staff here later,’” said park ranger Jon Manchester, “so that we can better manage some of the flow going through. This has been getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year. We’ll see where we go this year.”

Starting Saturday, rangers will be on duty during the evening, and the visitors’ center will remain open until 9 p.m. The fireflies begin to blink just after the sun goes down, which now is at about 8:20 p.m. The best time to see the lightning bugs is from about 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For several weeks, usually beginning in mid-to-late May, fireflies light up at the same time, rather than blink intermittently. The phenomenon, believed to be part of a spring mating ritual, also can be seen at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, a wildlife management area in Tennessee and at the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

But crowds to the Smokies have gotten so large that the National Park Service limits the number of people allowed to view the lightning bugs. Great Smoky Mountains National Park received more than 18,000 applications for access to see the fireflies this year, but will issue only about 2,000 passes, said park spokeswoman Jamie Sanders, who added that limiting access protects the bugs.

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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