National Park

Great Smoky Mountains Requiring Reservations and Parking Fee Near Popular Waterfall Travel and outdoors

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has launched a controversial “pilot project” to charge visitors $ 14 to park near Laurel Falls, one of the park’s most popular attractions.

The National Park Service says the “congestion management project” will run until Oct. 3, which is one of the busiest times for the 522,427-acre park.

“During the pilot, parking at the trailhead will be provided by reservation only and no parking will be allowed in undesignated areas along Little River Road,” NPS officials said in a press release. “Parking reservations for two hours can be made online… for $ 14. The project started in August.

The plan has been condemned on social media, with some calling $ 14 exorbitant for a national park. Others called the two-hour window a “time limit for nature” which penalizes hikers if they “stop along the way to enjoy the scenery and have fun”.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been the “most visited national park in the country,” according to the National Park Service. It had 12.1 million visitors in 2020, according to the NPS.

The 1.3-mile trail to Laurel Falls is one of its most popular sites, with “over 375,000 visits in 2020,” park officials said.

As a result, the road, parking lot and nearby trail become unsafe in the height of summer, officials said.

“Vehicles parked along the road obstruct traffic and create blind spots for motorists, while visitors walking to or from their vehicles in traffic lanes risk being struck by passing vehicles,” said said park officials. “Roadside parking also has an impact on adjacent habitats, damaging the edges of the road and causing erosion. “

It is hoped that requiring reservations will spread out visits. The two-hour parking limit is based on a survey that showed most people completed the waterfall trail in around 90 minutes, officials said.

The idea of ​​reservations and fees was suggested during a series of eight public workshops held virtually last fall to address “congestion and overcrowding in the park,” NPS officials said.

Some of the funders took to social media to champion the idea as essential to saving the park.

” Absolutely necessary. We love our park to the point of destroying it. The beauty of this region must be managed or risk losing it forever, ”Barbara Rabek wrote on Facebook.

“It should have been done years ago and needs to be done in other areas of the park. The park is way too crowded, ”said Chelsea Ballard.