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Kennesaw Mountain wants to charge for parking, run shuttle all week

No more driving to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Having to pay to park and then take a shuttle up. Less time for bicyclists to reach the summit.

A proposal released Tuesday by Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park officials wants changes like these implemented soon.

The park will collect public comment and send data to federal parks officials for approval, but the Kennesaw Mountain would like drivers to pay $5 per vehicle on the “honor system” for daily parking or $40 for an annual pass. That money would fund a seven-day shuttle bus that would be the only motor vehicle on the mountain.

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The shuttle, which currently runs on weekends and holidays, is free if you have any national park pass, and up to $3 without a pass.

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Under the proposed plan, there would be no fee for the shuttle but the $5 daily parking would apply, even if visitors plan on walking up the mountain.

The park had 2,360,256 visits in 2016, making it the 44th-most-visited federal park that year.

Park superintendent Nancy Walther said this proposed change is all about safety for walkers, bikers and drivers on the road.

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“When you mix all that together, even though the speed limit is 25 mph, it’s very dangerous,” she said. “Everybody is doing something different at different speeds, and not everyone adheres.”

The road’s 10-foot-wide driving lanes are on a 12 percent grade and include nine blind curves. In 2015, Walther said there were 73 service calls for things like traffic complaints, medical calls and visitor conflicts.

The proposal pulls from a 2010 federal report that suggests charging for a seven-day shuttle and excluding drivers.

And what would happen to the parking lot at the top of the mountain? Walther said her dream is to turn that into a shelter with picnic tables and other amenties for guests.

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Under the new plan visitors can still walk up the road, but those on bikes wouldn’t be allowed on the road while the shuttle is running, which is currently from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

“We want to be inclusive to all user groups, and we can’t allow vehicles to mix in with those two user groups because it’s very unsafe, so providing a shuttle service still gives people access,” Walther said.

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Estimates show the new program to run the daily shuttle service would cost between $120,000 and $130,000 annually, including a supervisor and two employees to collect the money, Walther said.

The current program doesn’t pay for itself, with a 2016 revenue of about $16,000, and a cost of $35,000.

Of the collected money, 20 percent immediately goes to Washington and gets redistributed to parks that don’t charge for parking, which Kennesaw received for years.

Walther hopes the leftover funds could go toward constructing new interactive exhibits, an internship program and repairing trails and buildings.

Kennesaw Mountain staff will be collecting comments about the plan for 50 days, including holding public meetings. The first meeting will be Sept. 12 at Marietta High School Performing Arts Center, 1171 Whitlock Road, from 5 to 7 p.m. 

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