Anytime a change is planned for either park policy or fees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), it is often followed by an uproar and the changes planned for reserving campsites in 3 GSMNP campgrounds and the first camping and picnic pavilion use fee increase since 2006 will be no different.
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is tremendously popular. Last year alone in the Front Country Campgrounds 172,984 camped in a tent while 117,177 used a Recreational. Considering there are no electrical, water and sewer hookups, or even showers that is a lot of people willing to rough it in the nation's most visited national park.
Since the Great Smoky Mountains national park does not collect any entrance fees, one of the few sources of income are use fees such as those for camping or picnicking in a reserved picnic pavilions. The monies collected stay within the Great Smoky Mountains national park and are used for things such infrastructure improvements and maintenance as well as park visitor services. In 2015 alone revenue from camping and pavilion fees in the GSMNP totaled approximately $1.6 million.
The proposed fee increase of 25% is expected to generate and additional $400,000 of revenue per year, far believe what park officials believe is necessary, but enough to help to sustain campground and picnic area operations and support other critical functions in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.
"In recent years, the park has compensated for budget imbalances due to inflation by reducing visitor services, delaying maintenance repairs, and in some cases, reducing the length of time facilities are open which particularly affects visitors during the shoulder seasons," said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. "While we recognize that fee increases are often unpopular, we are committed to maintaining this ’crown jewel’ of the National Park Service where visitors can create lasting memories through camping and picnicking in the Smokies."
This use fee increase would be the first since 2006, other than a minor increase when the Cataloochee campgrounds were move over to the online reservation system.
Other proposed changes are to move the Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Big Creek campgrounds to the National Recreation Reservation System requiring a paid reservation before entering the park. This would greatly improve how visitors would have to get a campsite or find out there are no longer any available as well as reduce theft of funds or services which has occurred in the past in the Cataloochee campgrounds.
If these fee increases and reservation system changes are approved, changes could take effect as early as October 1, 2016 but it is possible some changes may be deferred until the 2017 season.
The Great Smoky Mountains national park invites the public to comment through June 27 online at parkplanning.nps.gov, by Email: GRSM_Fee_Management@nps.gov, or by Mail to: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Attn: Proposal to Increase Fees
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
There will also be 2 informational open houses regarding this proposal
- June 20, 2016: Old Oconaluftee Visitor Center, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. at 1194 Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee, NC 28719
- June 23, 2016: Park Headquarters Lobby, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738