Interest fee

Swain commissioners oppose Smokies parking fee

A proposed parking fee for Great Smoky Mountains National Park has won support from organizations ranging from the National Parks Conservation Association to the North Shore Cemetery Association – but also opposition from a growing list of governments and elected officials .

“I understand they’re trying to raise money, but raising money out of Swain County just seems heartless,” Swain County Commissioner Roger Parsons said at an April 7 meeting. “Seems like it just stings to make Swain County residents pay to park in Deep Creek, or wherever we are.”

During that meeting, which took place just a day after the park publicly announced its proposal, Swain County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposed fee – or any fee. use of the park “not directly associated with the use of equipment or for commercial purposes”. The resolution also directed the council clerk to send a letter to federal and state county officials asking them to write to the National Park Service objecting to the charges.

The resolution points out that Swain County owns 42% of the park’s land area, with many Swain County residents descending from people who inhabited this land before the park service took it over. Imposing parking fees would impede residents’ ability to access the park and visit ancestor graves, the resolution says.

A joint position paper from the Friends of Bryson City Cemetery and the Lauada Cemetery Association released April 25 also appeals to Swain County’s unique place in the park’s history.

“Many of those who rest on these sacred grounds did not voluntarily surrender their homes and shrines now in the GSMNP, but have seen their lands condemned by state and federal agencies employing eminent domain powers,” reads the newspaper. “The taking was so morally and ethically repugnant to some that they refused to accept payment and never signed a deed. It is our sacred duty and honor to remember and support those ancestors and their just and righteous indignation.

About 87% of land in Swain County is federally owned, which means opportunities for local recreation projects are limited and decisions by federal agencies like the Park Service have a significant impact on the daily lives of residents.

“What we want is for Swain County to be able to issue these passes, because we want to issue them to vehicles – not people – to vehicles registered in Swain County,” the chairman said. Commission, Ben Bushyhead.

The park saw 14.1 million visits last year, while Swain County has only about 15,000 residents. Granting those residents free access would have little impact on the park’s bottom line, Bushyhead said.

Since the commissioners passed the resolution, Smokies Superintendent Cassius Cash has announced that members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will receive free passes, as existing park service regulations allow free access to the park for tribal members visiting park lands for traditional purposes. Bushyhead, himself a tribal citizen, said he didn’t see much difference between EBCI’s case for free access and Swain County’s.

“I told the park superintendent that the dislodgment of people in Swain County is such that if they wanted to do this with reserved people, I could match them without blowing smoke, point by point, for the county of Swain,” Bushyhead said.

Rep. Mike Clampitt “responded immediately” to Swain County’s resolution, Bushyhead said. Clampitt said he sent the Park Service a letter objecting to the charges and plans to contact federal representatives in the U.S. House and Senate “to let them know of our displeasure.” The federal government hampered the local Swain County economy when it took the land and reneged on its promise to build the North Shore Road, he said.

“I didn’t think it would be in Swain County’s interest to have and pay parking fees in the park,” he said. “It would be a slap in the face based on past history with what the park and the feds have done to Swain County.”

Sen. Kevin Corbin also responded to Swain County’s request for support and emailed Cash on April 20 to “strongly oppose” the proposal. The fee would be a ‘harm’ to small businesses that rely on park attendance, and it would be a ‘breach of public trust’ to charge fees to county residents whose ancestors donated their land for the park’s creation , he wrote.

“Thank you for your service to the park,” Corbin wrote. “Please ensure continued access to the park is free for all.”

Swain isn’t the only Park County to oppose the fee. On Thursday, April 21, the Blount County Commission voted 17 to 1 to pass its own resolution. The document expresses concern that the fee could open the door to other user fees in the park, asking the Parks Department to exempt Blount County residents from any enacted parking fees and to request instead additional funding from the federal government. The county is also discussing a joint letter to park management with other counties. Although a list of counties likely to participate in this letter was not available at press time, Cocke County Executive Crystal Ottinger said Cocke County is planning to join.

In interviews and public meetings, park staff said Park Service regulations do not allow them to exempt local residents from fees and that the proposal was designed with locals in mind.

“What we’ve already gotten is the ability to have an annual pass, and it’s not a standard in the expanded amenities authority that gives parks the power to charge user fees. for parking, but it was one of the things that we felt was vitally important, especially for our local residents,” said management assistant Dana Soehn.

Passes would cost $5 per day, $15 per week, or $40 per year.

“When we came up with these awards, we had the public in mind,” Cash said. “We had this region in mind.

The park is accepting written comments on the proposal until Tuesday, May 11. The deadline has been extended from May 7 due to a planned comment portal outage from April 29 to May 1. For more information, including a link to the feedback portal, visit nps. gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fee-proposal.htm.