SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE)- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers are calling March 1 historic. Wednesday marks the first day of the “Park it Forward” program, generating millions towards the park maintenance and preservation.
The “Park it Forward” program requires those who are parked in America’s most visited national park for 15 minutes or more to have a parking pass. It also implemented small camping fee increases.
You’ll have several options when purchasing a tag. An annual pass is $40, a seven-day pass is $15, and a day pass is $5.
Once obtained, parking pass are valid for any designated parking area within the Smokies, even if you cross into the North Carolina side. Parking tags are available at several designated areas in the Great Smoky Mountain and online on the park website.
“We will have a number of people out and about the next couple of weeks to let people know where they can buy a parking tag and why they need one. We have some other steps that we may need to take,” park spokesperson Emily Davis said. “We have things like courtesy notices for example that we can place on vehicles. And if it comes to it, law enforcement staff is prepared if they need to, for example, issue a warning notice or even possibly a citation.”
The money from these tags will stay within the park, helping to pay for more staff and to maintain the area. Park officials said last year they believe the revenue collected from parking fees will bring in around $7 million annually.
Many visitors tested out the new parking pass kiosks at visitors centers and parking areas in the national park for the first time on Wednesday.
Steve Sheets from Indiana was visiting the Smokies with one of his friends.
“I’ve never seen this thing before in my life,” he said looking at the new parking tag kiosks. “Good grief, now where do you start?”
Sheets had the same question as many others Wednesday.
“I mean everybody’s got to have money to run a park and five dollars is not much to pay for a day in the park. So big deal, it’s not a problem,” Sheets said. “But it’s a bit of an annoyance that you got to have your license plate.”
Besides a few people who were frustrated about having to go back to their cars to get their license plate numbers, many didn’t mind paying the fee.
“Five dollars isn’t that much,” Joe Moore from Louisiana said. “And if it helps maintain the park better then it’s a better experience for everybody.”
In fact, Glennie Browne who was hiking with her friends wonders why there aren’t more fees within the park.
“I’m really happy that there’s going to be money coming to the park,” she said. “That’s a really good thing. The only thing I wonder is why they don’t put a charge for the Cades Cove Loop because it’s not part of any state highway and millions of cars go through there every year.“
Despite a little bit of confusion figuring out the kiosk, Sheets said a parking pass isn’t going to discourage him from parking in the park.
“It worked,” he said with a smile on his face. “Just got to get a ticket now. Tada!”