Great Smoky Mountains National Park invites the public to comment through June 27th on a proposal to increase fees at frontcountry campgrounds and picnic pavilions along with proposed changes to the management of three campgrounds by adding them to the national reservation system through Recreation.gov. The park is also hosting open houses at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center Administration Building near Cherokee, NC on Monday, June 20th, and at Park Headquarters near Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Thursday, June 23rd where the public can drop by for more information about the proposal. Both open houses will be held from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“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.”
In addition to proposing fee increases, the park is also proposing to add Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Big Creek campgrounds to the National Recreation Reservation System. As proposed, all sites would require advanced reservation and payment prior to arrival in the park through Recreation.gov either online or by phone. By placing these three geographically remote campgrounds on the reservation system, the park can reduce campground operation costs by eliminating the need for staff time for the collection of fees. The reservation system also provides a more efficient process for visitors to secure an overnight stay without traveling to the remote locations to check for vacancies.
By law, the park maintains 100 percent of the camping and pavilion fees to reinvest in facility maintenance, including routine maintenance and infrastructure improvements, and provide services that benefit park visitors. In 2015, park revenue from camping and pavilion fees totaled approximately $ 1.6 million. The 25% proposed fee increase is expected to generate approximately $400,000. In recent years, recreation fee money has been used to support a variety of projects including operating costs such as daily maintenance and utility costs along with rehabilitation projects such as the replacement of picnic tables and grills.
The National Park Service (NPS) is a not-for-profit agency and NPS policy maintains that fees for services like camping and pavilions are set so as not to create unfair competition with private sector facilities in the area or put them at a disadvantage. The park completed a 2016 comparability study with campgrounds in the surrounding communities and the study revealed that, while park camping fees in the park have remained largely constant since 2006, campgrounds in the surrounding communities have continued to rise. Even with a proposed 25% fee increase, park campgrounds would remain among the least expensive in the area.
The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Interagency Senior or Access Pass holders receive a 50% discount in camping fees for frontcountry individual and horse campsites. There is no plan to increase the price of these national passes, which is $10 for lifetime Senior Pass and the Access pass is free. Passes are available at Smokemont, Elkmont, and Cades Cove campgrounds and park visitor centers.
Following the comment period, feedback will be used to determine how or if a fee increase will be implemented. An informational document with additional details about the proposal may be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm. Click on “Proposal to Increase Fees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
Public comments will be accepted May 26 through June 27, 2016 through the following venues:
Written comments may be submitted electronically as follows:
Online: Via the National Park Service’s Planning, Environmental and Public Comment (PEPC) website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm. Click on “Proposal to Increase Fees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
Written comments will also be accepted by mail or e-mail addressed as follows:
Mail: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Attn: Proposal to Increase Fees, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
The park will host two informational open houses where the general public, partners, cooperators, and stakeholder representatives are invited to drop by to learn more about the proposal and submit written comments.
• June 20, 2016: Oconaluftee Visitor Center Administration Building from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 1194 Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee, NC 28719.
• June 23, 2016: Park Headquarters Lobby from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
Note that comments submitted anonymously will not be accepted. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment (including your personal identifying information) is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and may be made publicly available. While you may request in your comment to withhold your personal identifying from public review, the park cannot guarantee that they will legally be able to do so.