Park fee proposal deserves support
To the Editor:
In response to the Swain County commissioners’ opposition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park parking fee proposal, I have several points. Most importantly, let’s agree that the national park provides a precious asset, both locally and nationally, and is well worth supporting.
But the commissioners, our elected officials, responded within 24 hours of its announcement to oppose the parking fee proposal without any input from their constituents. It appears a knee-jerk response based on past wrongs.
What percentage of Swain County residents are descended from folks who sold their land to make the Park? According to the Park Service presentation, only about 15 percent of the land came from about 1,200 individual landowners, some here and some in Tennessee. Swain County now has over 14,000 residents (2020 census). The other 85 percent came from lumber companies. Whoever the previous owners, it’s in the past, nearly 100 years ago. The best way to positively affect the current situation is to let go of the past, let go of the grudges, let go of feeling victimized, and work on what is now and how to move forward. All the Swain County land that lies within the Park brings in many visitors and tourists dollars, paying local taxes and providing jobs, and Swain County is not being asked to provide any money in return to take care of the Park.
Like the substantial number of local residents who aren’t from here, I speak as a person who moved here about eight years ago. By far most of the people I meet who live here aren’t from here but moved here as I did, in part for the lifestyle — including the national park. I have talked to hikers and other folks who moved here from elsewhere and have gotten positive responses to the parking fee proposal. The amount seems minimal; the proposed annual fee is less than taking the family out to a local restaurant. Like me, many others also support the Park as members of Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountain Association. I hike in the park regularly and have hiked all the trails (900-miler). I’m in the park a lot. It’s beautiful! I also notice the overcrowded parking lots, the occasional non-working or dirty restrooms, the lines at the visitor center counter to ask the rangers questions, the trash along U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road, the occasional trail that needs maintenance or has bridges out, the “deferred maintenance,” the bear or elk traffic jams with no Ranger to guide the vehicles, the littered picnic area in Deep Creek.
I agree that more money is needed to maintain the Park. Parking or other user fees all stay in the Park to preserve it. How many have listened to the Park’s justification for the fees? This link lays out the park visitation and the financial details — The People’s Park - Great Smoky Mountains National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). It’s obvious the Park isn’t doing this to “screw” the descendants of the original landowners, but to make a well-thought-out proposal that benefits all of us. Let’s take some responsibility locally to preserve this treasure for local residents and visitors.
Are we willing to pay the price to preserve our most prized asset? A resounding “yes.”