Smokies hosts meetings on possible backcountry camping fees

Smokies officials host meetings on possible backcountry camping fees

Posted:

GATLINBURG (WATE/AP) - Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are holding meetings to get feedback on possible charges for backcountry camping and hiring more rangers for those areas.

Two open houses about the proposal are scheduled for:

Tuesday, August 16 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the Old Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 1194 Newfound Gap Road in Cherokee

Thursday, August 18 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at Park Headquarters Lobby at 107 Headquarters Road in Gatlinburg.

The national park is one of the country's most popular with more than nine million visitors last year. It's also among few that don't charge an entrance fee.

The park requires those staying overnight in the nearly 90 backcountry sites to get a permit. But the reservations office is open just three hours a day because of staffing shortages.

Campers complain that lack of oversight means people take campsites without reservations, leave garbage, and bring dogs that aren't allowed.

Managers are evaluating a switch to a computerized reservation system. It would take reservations online and through a call center for all backcountry sites 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The reservations would be made by a contractor at: www.recreation.gov, the site used to book frontcountry campsites.

The park would also expand the operations of the Backcountry Information Center to provide quality trip planning advice.

Additional rangers would also be hired to exclusively patrol the backcountry.

The park will collect public input on the new plan online and through two public meetings. Details of the proposal are on the park website.

Comments may be sent by email at: GrsmComments@nps.gov or by mail to: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

They should be submitted by August 26.

Portions of this report copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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