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Great Smoky Mountains National Park will charge a parking fee in 2023

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park service calls the new parking fee program 'Park It Forward.'
Courtesy of GSMNP
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park service calls the new parking fee program 'Park It Forward.'

Parking fees are coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Starting March 2023, parking tags will be required to be displayed on any motor vehicle parked within the park boundary. Visitors will be charged $5 for a daily parking tag, $15 for a parking tag up to seven days or $40 for an annual tag. Before now there hasn’t been a cost to enter the park. The “Park it Forward” funds will be used in the park for facilities, trail maintenance and more.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash in a press release. “I have been incredibly encouraged by all the support, from across the country, and especially here in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, for the opportunity to invest in the future care of this treasured park. We take great pride in being the country’s most visited national park, but that distinction comes with tremendous strain on our infrastructure. Now we will have sustained resources to ensure this sacred place is protected for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.”

In a press release, the GSMNP service explained that over the last decade, visitation increased by 57 percent to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021. The park service says that because more visitation and of rising costs, additional revenue is critical to support upkeep of the park.

“The new fee changes will provide an opportunity for park users to directly contribute towards protecting the park,” explains the park service in a press release.

The Park it Forward and camping fee proposal was initially announced in April, and the public was encouraged to submit comments.

Over 15,000 people submitted comments about the fee – with 85 percent in support or sharing constructive ways improve the program, according to the park service. The daily parking fee will be $5 with options for weekly and yearly parking too. Camping fees such as backcountry camping, pavilions and horse camping will also be increasing. Here is the full list.

In a breakdown of the comments, the park service says the received no negative comments and lots of support for an annual tag.

While anyone can buy an annual parking tag, park leadership specifically worked on this option for local residents who are more likely to visit the park throughout the year.

About 41 percent and 16 percent of all correspondences were from Tennessee and North Carolina residents, respectively. Support from the six counties bordering the park varied with 82 percent of Blount County (TN), 73 percent of Sevier County (TN), 90 percent of Cocke County (TN), 60 percent of Graham County (NC), 60 percent of Swain County (NC), and 85 percent of Haywood County (NC) residents who submitted feedback expressing either support or neutrality for the new parking fee.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.