America's Most Popular National Park Could Start Charging for Parking

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited and one of only a handful with no admission fee, could institute a parking fee to pay for much-needed maintenance.

2 minute read

April 7, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Updated August 15, 2022 to more accurately reflect the status of the proposal at the time of this article. The parking fee plan was proposed in April but not approved until August 2022.

Elizabeth Sims reports on big changes that could be coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which may start charging for parking to raise revenue for park maintenance in the nation's most popular national park. "With 4,500 parking spaces in the park, the projected revenue gain would be around $10-15 million per year." Parking tags would be available at daily, weekly, and annual rates. "Officials said unofficial roadside parking would be eliminated to help protect resources, improve motorist and pedestrian safety and improve traffic flow through congested areas."

As Sims notes, "In its current state of operation, the Great Smoky Mountains does not have a fee or robust concessions to boost revenues outside the park. Officials said the lack of concessions was by design and has been a successful model with $50 returned to the region for every $1 of federal investment."

Because of deed restrictions on park roads, unlike a parking fee, instituting an entrance fee would require action by the Tennessee state legislature. "The last major infrastructure upgrades came in the 1930s and 1960s, meaning wastewater treatment and freshwater sources are beyond their life cycle. The strain on park employees, infrastructure and natural resources isn’t sustainable despite the dedicated funding of the Great American Outdoors Act."

The park also wants to increase backcountry camping fees and standardize other campsite fees across the park.

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