Park Entrance Sign 1

How would you like to pay $25 to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park??  An entry fee was a hot topic at a recent “sustainability” conference on the Smoky Mountains…

I know I, for one would not be able to go as often.  Even if I were able to make it up there, I would have to plan ONE day over a long weekend to actually go in the park itself.  I usually end up in the park 3 or 4 days of a 5 day trip.  That adds $75-$100 to my trip.  I can’t afford that.  This is an idea being mentioned to force some people to not go to the park.  That’s one of the PRIMARY REASONS being used to consider this issue.  The theory being, too many people are using the park, and that is causing environmental problems.  Well, that’s why the park exists.  It is there to allow kids who don’t grow up in the country develop a respect and appreciation for the outdoors.  It’s there to give all of us a greater appreciation of the outdoors.  If a proposed entry fee happen, I have no doubt fewer people will visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  And who will miss out on this experience?  Well, clearly, those with the financial means will not miss out.  If you have an extra $25-$100 per trip, the entry fee will not impact you one bit.  It might even mean a little less traffic around the Cades Cove loop road.  No, the only people who will not be able to enjoy the park will be those who can’t afford the fee.  The kids whose families can’t afford to go to Disney World this year may not even get a chance to see the Great Smoky Mountain National Park either.  The reason the park is visited by 9-11 million people each year is because the park is a beautiful place to visit, but also because it doesn’t cost anything to visit.  An entry fee changes that.  The number of visitors in 2008 is down from prior years anyhow, so we don’t have an actively growing problem.  I’ve often wondered why the local governments around the Smokies do not have a small (1% or so) park tax on food/lodging in their areas.  If you are staying in a $70/night place, that will cost you .70/a night… $200/night will cost you $2 extra.  Those prices are not going to make/break a deal, but that money could significantly help the park.  That is a perfect alternative to charging a park fee.  Cities like Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg/Sevierville/Cherokee/Asheville who owe a great deal of their business to the park could impliment that tax, and I think we (the visitors) would not mind paying it.  We already pay 12% hotel tax in Gatlinburg anyhow, what difference will 1% more make?  But it will make a huge difference to the park.  I also believe 1 billion of stimulus money could be used in National Parks… that would more than get the parks where the need to be financially.  I blogged about that awhile back… see it here…  https://gosmoky.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/president-obama-heres-a-suggestion/

This whole issue makes my blood boil.  This is an idea thought up by people who can probably afford the extra $25 (many of which are probably employed by the government, so they are getting paid by those of us who would have to also pay the fee.) 

Let me hear what YOU think?  



Knoxnews.com story on the summit…


Read Jeff from hikingthesmokies.com take below…




  1. I completely agree. Parents need a place where they can take the kids and not be charged an arm and a leg. Too many kids don’t have the opportunity to walk in the woods–and these are the very ones that would be hurt by this.
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I guess I will have to send another email to the White House.

    • Thank-you, Pat. I think in the KnoxNews article, it says the park Superintendent says he doesn’t want to comment on an entry fee until a grassroots movement for the fee starts. Perhaps we should start a grassroots movement in the other direction. I agree the park needs more money, but an entry fee is not the answer.


  2. I find it interesting that at the bottom of the article Sec. of the Int. Kempthorne said, “We have to get the children reconnected,” but I think such a high entrance fee would hinder that goal. I frequented Shenandoah National Park in VA while in college. The entrance fee there is $15 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. If everybody chips in it isnt so bad, but we’re talking about families here, where one person does all the paying.

  3. That reminds me…I had a year-long park pass that cost $30, so 2 visits paid for it. I think all of the parks that charge entrance fees also have similar passes, as well as those for seniors, and that might help alleviate the cost for frequent visitors. That’s what those passes are for. As long as the driver has it, it works for the whole car.

    Sorry for the double comment. I don’t like the idea of an entrance fee in the Smokies either 😦

    • Ashley,

      That wouldn’t be too bad. $30 for a year. Most people could probably pay that one. I still think a 1% “park tax” on food and lodging that goes directly to the park from surrounding communities would probably help the park more, and I doubt anyone would even notice that extra 1% on their food/hotel bill.

  4. I agree with you. The best solution would be for the cities to add a lodging tax, and there is a financial incentive for them to do so.

    If the parks charge $25, you are right that fewer people will visit. Therefore, fewer people will also visit the cities (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, etc…). If the cities lose that traffic, they go under completely. Tourism is what these cities thrive on.

    It is better for the cities to charge this to their visitors than to lose the traffic entirely. Ultimately, I think a lodging tax such as this would generate even more income than the $25 entry fee.

    We have to fight this, and let our decision makers know that $25 is too much, and we won’t stand for it.

  5. We live an hour from the park, and we go take a walk in the woods several times a year. We lived all our lives in the flat midwest, and finally live where we can enjoying hiking in the mountains, and now being empty nesters, it’s meant a lot to us to have something we could enjoy together. I would hate it if we were unable to go very often because of entry fees.

  6. i drive through the park on the way to cherokee, and have taken my husbands daughter there as she had never been to the rez. the first time i took my son to the rez, he was just in awe at the views from on top of the mountains. i also would like to start hiking in the park-trips like this wouldn’t be possible if we have to pay. i think a “user fee” would be a disgrace to the park AND the state, and a severe blow to the economy in our beautiful county, and goodness knows, with the economy like it is, we certainly don’t need salt in the wound.

    • Angelia,

      I agree with you, but something tells me some of the folks who want a fee could not care less about the economic impact, or about the people who WILL NOT be able to afford to go…

  7. The Great Smoky Mountains Park is obviously a big draw for tourists which in turn support our economic development and existing attractions. I would not be opposed to a fee to enter the park, however $25 is a bit excessive. I would pay a yearly pass fee to help with trail maintenance and to hire back our park rangers who have lost a job due to cut backs from our US government.

    • Michelle,

      I hear ya. I know the park needs money, I just think a fee would deter some folks who otherwise would visit. The tax idea would bring in similar (perhaps more) money, with little impact on most people, especially since we basically expect to get taken advantage of when it comes to taxes in tourist areas anyways:) Then again, the local governments may not be willing to go for a tax that is earmarked just for the park. I don’t know the politicians in the area.


  8. Raymond – I’ve followed all this with interest, and I just read the newspaper article. We’ve owned our cabins in Gatlinburg for almost 13 years. I remember when we bought our first cabin that we asked our realtor the question about the park charging an entrance fee. He told us, “It will never happen.” He explained that the park land actually “belongs” to both North Carolina and Tennessee and they have jointly leased it to the US government. One of the lease stipulations is that no entrance fee can be charged to the park. My realtor said the only way that can change is by action of both state legislatures. As he said, “That will never happen because both states have too much to lose in tax revenue because of the reduced attendance.” Now, I haven’t personally checked this out, but it makes sense. So I doubt it will happen. Nevertheless, in these days when the government is grabbing every dime it can, I wouldn’t say “never” to a park admission fee.

    • Dave,

      I had heard that as well, I had also heard a fee could not be charged due to the highway that was built from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. But then someone else said it could happen. Who knows? I could easily see elected officials voting for that in the future. They could say they are voting to protect the park from overcrowding, and a portion of the money could be used for state budget shortfalls. Throw in the fact that they could sell it as “helping the environment,” and I could see them doing it. I don’t trust most elected officials as far as I can throw them.


  9. As our Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary, dealing with so many issues from poachers, to pollution, to Hemlock forest die offs, to tons of litter in our streams…I wonder what the children of tomorrow will say when they celebrate the next 75 years of the Park about our generation’s lack of concern for its health. One only needs to walk the trails daily as I do to notice the wear and tear that 9 million people bring and lack of funding allows. To see Albright Grove become a ghost forest because the Park didn’t have money to save the Hemlocks is a spit in the eye of those who raised the money to make this a National park in the first place for future generations. So much effort to save the Old growth forest, for only a few future generations. Where will our grandchildren go when this unique eco system is no more? Sounds dramatic? When the Hemlocks die, the stream temps will rise, killing off hundreds if not thousands of rare plants, insects, fungi, fish, salamanders etc. who need specific water temps and salinity to survive. Already, there is an alarming change in the Cades Cove area streams, in just a few years.

    I am friends with several Park officials who spend sleepless nights worrying about how quickly the most biodiverse place in the world North of the Tropics will change when the Hemlocks are gone. And that is just one example. 9 million people a year are a huge drain on the Park. We are literally loving it to death. 30 different trees species are dying off which changes entire eco systems and creates larger die offs. That could be mitigated if only we had the funding to help the Park instead of the limited resources going to patrol the 4 million polluting cars that go through here every year just to name one example.

  10. Hi,

    I wanted to see if I could use a couple of the pictures on this site for my cabin website. I would be happy to link back to here.

    Kind Regards,
    Heather Goode

  11. I agree with Vesna. I don’t understand this negative reaction to a fee at all. I would be happy to do my part in supporting the park by paying a fee. The idea of using a fee as a deterrent to visitors is not the chord we should be striking here. I look at it as a way of sharing fiscal responsibility for preserving the Smokies as part of our common heritage not as someone “charging” me to use the mountains. I’ve been to many National Parks and have never balked at paying an entrance fee.

    I visited the Smokies for the first time in November and instantly fell in love with them. I hope to visit again in 2010. However, as beautiful as they are, I was dismayed to see the dying hemlocks and the effects of air pollution. I was shocked to learn that not only was there no entrance fee but that it is the nation’s most trafficked national park AND the most underfunded. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together here. There need to be more efforts to protect the Smokies before they are impacted beyond recovery. And those efforts are going to cost money. (The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act which aims to improve the roads of this park is not going to help the larger issues looming over the Smokies. Funding is needed for conservation.)

    As far as how much a fee should cost well that’s another matter. A lot of people burn $25 on drinks when they’re eating out without even thinking about it. The cost should cover a single vehicle (not per person). I don’t see why a 7 day pass much like other NP’s provide would not accommodate most if not all cases. Or pay a fee but have it last the entire year. That way visitors from out of town help support the park with a modest fee and they can go as much as they like and locals can support the park but have access year round. Even if only out-of-town visitors paid a fee that would not bother me either and if it was just $5 a car think of the revenue that could be generated and put to good use. Then at least SOMETHING would be happening to help subsidize the care of this wonderful national treasure.

    • Eric,

      I agree with you on most points. I also am happy to do my part to support the park. I could also see a minimal fee of $5 or so being used to generate needed money for conservation in the park. However, a larger fee WOULD deter some from enjoying the park. Quite frankly, I don’t trust government enough to allow them to charge a fee. It will probably be too high, and they would increase it too much and often.

      The fact is that those who would not visit due to a fee would be those on the lower end of the economic scale. The park is currently one of the few places just about ANYONE of any economic condition can visit on vacation. A fee would deter some of those folks from visiting. I think that’s a bad thing.

      But I completely agree that we should pay what we can to help the park. I make it a point never to leave those green donation boxes that we see around the park without dropping something in there. We also try to find a couple of things to buy at the visitor centers, and that money goes to the park as well. I’ve been working on getting a South Carolina license place for the Smokies, similar to the plates in North Carolina and Tennessee. Those plates bring in millions of dollars to the park each year.

      I’d encourage everyone to donate money to the park in some way. We shouldn’t have to be forced to pay a fee to support something (beyond our taxes) as great as the Smokies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s