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.”
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Respectfully, it’s not about “letting go of the past,” it’s about honoring a commitment, and holding our institutions to account, including our National Park Service. From the very beginning, accessing Great Smoky Mountains National Park was to be to free. A parking fee is an entrance fee by another name. Parking on the side of the road is to be eliminated. This will create an enormous demand for more parking, as currently there is simply not enough parking spaces available during peak season. Fees will increase to pay for additional parking areas. Building more parking areas will a have a greater environmental impact than parking on the side of the road. The park has also claimed that the fees will help with safety issues. More accidents happen around parking lots than when people simply pull off on the side of the road. The park’s creation of an additional revenue stream is the last thing it needs to do if its goals are preservation, and reducing the environmental impact.
If this deal passes ; there needs to be a way to track the number of locals who make use of the park. I believe that the number will be very low. If that's the case then this idea has generated the exact opposite of its stated intent by being prohibitive to use by locals
14 some million people visited the park last year. That alone should attract the attention of Washington.
If one dislikes this idea, one should vote for candidates that will pass laws that fund the upkeep of our national park. Over the years the Department of Interior has steadily shrunk the budget for all national parks even though the number of visitors has steadily increased. The park has suffered for it.
Yeah I know... That's all well and good but where's your better ideas? Honestly, Other than better funding from Washington, I got no idea. But I've lived here long enough to base a bad feeling on experience. I have a bad feeling about this idea.
We in Sevier County must take care of our "golden goose." Practically every business in our community benefits directly or indirectly from the tourism the Smokies bring to our area. The folks at Dollywood know that and, as I understand, fully support the plan.