A historic amount of crowds have been going to National Parks across the country over the past couple of years, making the National Park Service scramble to reduce congestion. At the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2021 was its busiest year ever, with the park having visitation growth by 57% in the past decade. Over fourteen million visited the park last year, a substantial difference from its second-place challenger, Zion National Park, which only had more than five million visitors. According to NBC 10 News, the park is proposing various fees to help address a maintenance backlog that faces the popular national park.
They would introduce a parking fee of $5 for a single day, $15 for a seven-day tag, and $40 for an annual pass. Backcountry camping fees would increase to $8 a night per person and go to a maximum of $40 depending on demand, fees for Appalachian trail thru-hikers would be $40 per person, “family campsites would be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups.” In spite of these bold proposals, there are still no plans for an admission fee. The expected revenue gain from the new fee would be between $10-15 million. The fees will go towards supporting “operational costs for managing and improving services for visitors including trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more law enforcement staffing across the park.” You can read through all the new fees here.
From now until May 7th, public comments will be open for submissions. A virtual public meeting will be happening on April 14th from 5-6 pm EST to explain the changes. The official decision will come from NPS Director Chuck Sims on October 1st. After its decision in October, the park will run a public education campaign explaining its decision. If the plan is adopted, parking fees would become required starting in the Winter or Spring of 2023.