Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most popular national park in the U.S., may be a little too popular, at least at some of its trails, and it plans to test a parking fee at one trailhead as a way of reducing the congestion. The park is one of those that does not charge an entry fee.
Public reaction to the plan is already mixed, with some park users calling it "Absolutely necessary. We are loving our park to the point of destruction," while others say that the plan "looks like a money grab" and "$14 to park for the trail is insane." The number of annual visitors has jumped 32% to 13 million since 2009, while funding and staff have been reduced.
The proposal, with the mouthful of a name Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot, will run from September 7 to October 3. Spots in the trailhead parking lot will be available on a timed-entry reservation basis, and the informal parking along the roadside will be blocked off. The Park Service is also urging visitors to use the $5 shuttle that runs to the trail.