GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced a plan on Wednesday to start charging parking fees as well as higher rates for campsites, day cabin rentals and picnic lodges. -nic from next year.
Park visits have increased 57% over the past decade to a record 14.1 million last year and have taken a toll on facilities, the park said in a news release. Additional revenue from the changes would allow the park to deal with renovations as well as staffing challenges and law enforcement services, including trail maintenance and trash removal.
The park is seeking public comment through May 7 and has scheduled a virtual public meeting for April 14 to discuss the proposals. Comments can be submitted online or by mail.
“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at a crossroads,” Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said in the statement. “We are proud to be the most visited national park, but this presents challenges due to wear and tear on aging facilities and pressure on park resources and employees. The sale of parking passes, for a modest fee, would provide much-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.
The proposal includes $5 for daily parking, $15 for up to seven days and $40 for an annual tag. The rates were determined by comparing similar access on private and public land, according to the release. The average parking rate in nearby towns where parking fees are charged is $15 per day and $68 per month. In national parks where visitors are charged for parking, the average rate is $9 per day and $50 per year.
Visitors would be required to affix a tag to vehicles parked at designated locations within park boundaries. The tag would not guarantee a parking space at a specific location. Parking would continue to be available on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, roadside parking would be eliminated to help protect resources, ease traffic flow in congested areas, and improve motorist and pedestrian safety.
Noting that it does not charge entrance fees, the park said parking tags would not be required for motorists taking scenic routes through the park or using park roads as a commuter route. Pedestrians and cyclists would not be required to purchase parking passes.
Backcountry camping fees would double to $8 per night under the proposal, with a maximum of $40 per camper. The park said these fees have not increased in 10 years as use of the site has grown to more than 100,000 camper nights a year.
Frontcountry camping fees would be standardized across the park. Family camping fees per night would be $30 for primitive sites and $36 for sites with electric hookups. Overnight fees previously ranged from $17.50 to $25, according to the release.
Rates for group camps, horse camps and picnic lodges would increase by up to 30%, depending on size and location. Proposed daily rental rates would be $200 for the Spence Cabin and $300 for the Appalachian Lodge. Current rates are higher on weekends.
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