Smoky Mountain Parking Fee Proposed

Smoky Mountain parking fee proposed.

Smoky Mountain Parking Fee Proposed. GSMNP officials are seeking public input on proposed fee program changes for 2023, including a new park wide parking fee and an increase to existing fee rates at front country and backcountry campsites, picnic pavilions, and day-use cabin rentals. All revenue generated through these user fees would remain in the Smokies to directly support operational costs for managing and improving services for visitors including trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more law enforcement staffing across the park.  

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at a crossroads,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We’re proud to be the most visited National Park, but it does present challenges due to wear and tear on aging facilities and a strain on park resources and employees. Parking tag sales, at a modest fee, would provide critically needed support to protect and enhance the visitor experience not just for tomorrow, but for generations to come. We appreciate the public’s input throughout this process.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park. Visitation increased by 57 percent to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021. With rising costs and more visitation, additional revenue is critical to support upkeep of the park. The proposed fee changes would provide an opportunity for park users to directly contribute towards upkeep of the park.    

Proposed Smokies Parking Tag Program 

The proposed Smokies Parking Tag program would create a sustainable revenue source to address longstanding challenges associated with high use, year-round operational needs, and resource protection. Fee revenue would support the care of well-loved resources including trails, picnic areas and historic landscapes across the park.  

The park is proposing a daily parking tag for $5, a parking tag for up to seven days for $15, and an annual parking tag for $40. The proposed rates and tag duration were determined by considering a comparison of rates for similar access on private and public lands. The average parking rate in gateway communities where parking fees are charged is $15 per day and $68 per month. In National Park sites where parking fees are charged, the average rate is $9 per day and $50 per year. The park asks the public to provide input on the proposed parking tag cost and the duration of the parking tag.  

As proposed, the Smokies Parking Tag would be required to be displayed on all motor vehicles parking in designated parking spots within park boundaries. The tag would not guarantee a parking spot at a specific location. Parking would continue to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis throughout the park. Unofficial roadside parking would be eliminated to help protect resources, improve motorist and pedestrian safety, and to improve traffic flow through congested areas. 

The park would continue to be entrance fee free. The parking tags would not be required for motorists experiencing the park through a scenic drive or using park roads as a commuter route. Parking tags would also not be required for pedestrians or cyclists. 

Proposed Fee Program Changes 

The park recommends increasing backcountry camping fees from $4 per night to $8 per night, with a maximum of $40 per camper, based on cost comparability information and operational needs.  Backcountry fees provide critical support for trip planning, 7-day-a-week backcountry office support, and backcountry law enforcement patrol. These fees have not been increased in 10 years, while use of sites has increased to more than 100,000 camper nights per year. 

The park proposes standardizing frontcountry fees across the park as campground operational costs are now similar across locations. The proposed fee for all campgrounds for family campsites would be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Formerly, rates for campgrounds varied across campgrounds and ranged from $17.50 to $25 per night. Additional frontcountry fees proposed to be increased include group camps, horse camps, and picnic pavilions by between 20 and 30 percent depending on size and location. Rates for daily rental of the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont are proposed to be a standard daily rate, resulting in an average increase of the weekly rate and decrease of the weekend rate. The rate change proposals can be found at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fee-proposal.htm

Share your thoughts 

A virtual public meeting to discuss the proposed fee program changes will take place on April 14, 2022, from 5 to 6 p.m. The meeting will include an overview presentation introducing the rate changes and a Question and Answer session. Visitors may attend the meetings virtually by logging in at https://tinyurl.com/mttkdyxs

Under the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), the park may charge fees to provide funding to support a safe and enjoyable visitor experience. In addition to the repair, maintenance and enhancements of visitor facilities, the park would prioritize using the fee revenue to provide increased ranger presence and maintenance personnel across the park. The program changes would generate funds to repair, maintain and enhance visitor facilities for current and future generations of visitors. 

Source – GSMNP

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