The National Park Service is planning a prescribed burn in the Cataloochee area as early as October 28th and lasting through the first part of November. The burn will cover about 200 acres and will help encourage healthy vegetation for foraging Elk. Similar burns are often prescribed for the Cades Cove area to maintain open meadows.
Controlled burns are planned in the park for a couple different reasons. The park website lists two common reasons for a prescribed burn: to help species and ecosystems that benefit from the occasional fire, and to clear out dead trees and brush that could be fuel for a that would occur naturally, such as after a lightening strike. In the case of the latter, a naturally occurring fire could be catastrophic if the fueling underbrush isn't cleared by a prescribed burn first.
The Cataloochee area will remain open to visitors for the duration of the controlled burn. The burn comes at a time when visitation is still relatively high during the busy autumn leaf season. However, because Cataloochee is at a higher elevation than places like Cades Cove, colors may already be past their peak. Don't be alarmed by seeing smoke in the area, although it may disrupt some views on the drive through Cataloochee.