SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — The superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park calls it a significant milestone and an opportunity to invest, but it has come with some opposition.
Starting March 1, 2023, it will cost visitors $5 for a day, $15 for a week, or $40 for an annual parking tag. Tags won’t be needed just to drive through or if you stop for less than 15 minutes.
The idea is to use that money for upgrades and maintenance. All of the money will stay within the most-visited park in the National Park system, with 14.1 million visits last year.
Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park said that over the last decade, visitation increased by over 50 percent.
They say with rising costs and more people in the park, additional revenue is critical to support upkeep.
Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said, “the fees will take care of operational costs such as law enforcement, trash pickup, road paving. People enjoy those things when they come to the Smokies on an annual basis.”
Some visitors say they’re okay with paying a parking fee.
Brad Kleinsasser from Ft. Lauderdale, Fl said, “I have no problem with it at all. It’s a way to generate revenue for the park. I don’t have a problem with it at all. It’s not going to tamper with my visiting here”
Others are a little skeptical.
Bill Warganich who lives in Gatlinburg said, “it kind of bothers me a little bit but I know a lot of the other national parks charge a parking fee.”
Camping fees are also set to increase in 2023.
Officials say the park receives between $4 and 5 million a year through camping fees, concession fees, and donations.
They believe the parking fee revenue will help generate around $7 million annually.
“We need to make sure that the employees have the tools they need to do their job, and that we will have a sustainable funding source that we ensure that this park will be intact for the next century of service as it turns 100 years old in 12 more years from now,” said Cash.
Pass will be sold online, at visitor centers, and through parking kiosks at some locations within the Smokies.