Hi, my name is Cassius Cash. I’m the Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today is a historic and exciting day as we announce the adoption of the Park it Forward program. I asked for your feedback. And wow, you responded! Nearly 3,700 people, from all 50 states, sent their concerns, support, and ideas. My team and I, we read them all. This was not an easy, overnight decision. But the overwhelming support from park visitors across the country, and especially those in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, made it easier. People clearly understood the business case for the needed revenue. In fact, over 85 percent of the comments we received were either supportive or provided constructive ideas to make the program as effective and practical as possible. The overriding message from the public was clear: we value the Park, and we’re willing to invest in protecting it for future generations. Still, some felt hurt by this plan. For some, this fee program conflicts with personal beliefs, as well as beliefs that have been handed down from past generations who sold their lands to create the park. We heard you. Those moments weighed heavily on me. But let me share with you what weighed even heavier on my soul: my duty to ensure this park is protected; to ensure our employees have the tools to do their jobs; and to ensure the visitors of tomorrow have this sacred place to explore. With Park it Forward, we will accomplish these important goals. So now we’re finalizing the implementation plan. And later this fall we’ll share all the ‘how tos’ for how you can secure your parking tag for 2023. Let me end by saying that I’m very proud to be part of this milestone here at the park, and I thank you for your support.
All revenue generated through these user fees will remain in the Smokies to directly support operational costs for managing and improving services for visitors including trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more staffing to increase the presence of personnel across the park.
Will the park offer free parking tags to Tribal citizens?
Yes, the National Park Service will provide parking tags at no cost to Tribal leaders who will then distribute the tags to Tribal citizens who are coming to the park for traditional activities.
The National Park Service expressly allows citizens of American Indian Tribes to enter parks for traditional activities without paying fees.
This guiding policy can be found in NPS Management Policies (2006) and Recreation Fee Management Reference Manual 22A, Section 10.1.1.
Will there be a discount for residents of local counties?
The annual tag option is specifically provided to meet the needs of local residents for year-round, repeated access.
Would family members be able to visit family gravesites inside the park without paying the fee?
The park uses the Special Use Permit system to issue permits at no cost for Decoration Days, family reunions for descendants across the park, and cemetery visits.
Decoration Day permit holders will be exempt from the parking tag requirement for the duration of their permit.
Each cemetery visit is unique and park staff work directly with descendants to coordinate special access including annual boat shuttles, vehicle shuttles, and use of administrative roads.
If I have a parking tag, would I be guaranteed a parking spot?
No, parking tags will not a guarantee a specific parking spot in a specific location or for a specific time frame.
Just like today, parking at the busiest areas will require visitors to plan ahead to choose off-peak hours, days, and seasons to better the chances of parking availability.
Due to increases in visitation across the National Park Service, entrance fees and parking fees alone cannot guarantee parking spots at the most sought-after locations. Even parks that require daily reservations to enter the park, do not guarantee parking at a specific park feature.
Will registered frontcountry campers and permitted back country users be exempt from the parking tag requirement?
No. Backcountry campers will not be exempt from the parking tag requirement.
Frontcountry campers parked at their designated campsite will not be required to have a parking tag. If they park elsewhere in the park, a parking tag will be required.
Would the parking tag program relieve congestion or solve parking issues in the park?
Parking tag sales will not be limited or capped, therefore, the program is not anticipated to relieve congestion or solve parking issues in the park.
Parking tag revenue will be used to improve visitor experience. One of the key ways to Smokies plans to improve visitor experience is through reducing congestion.
I thought the park couldn't charge any fees. How can you charge for this?
The Smokies cannot charge an entrance fee (read why here), but has long charged fees for things like front and backcountry camping.
Although the congressionally authorized budget for the National Park Service helps to cover the costs of preserving parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, those funds do not cover all of the operating costs associated with millions and millions of visitors who drive park roads, flush park toilets, and use park services annually.
In 1965, Congress officially provided National Parks the ability to charge user fees to help fully meet costs through authorities in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and, more recently, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
Most parks of similar size and visitation as the Smokies receive revenue from fees, concessions, and donations that doubles their annual funding support and provides a sustainable revenue source to meet visitor needs.