“Slowly figuring out ways to get around the agreement to not charge for access to the park,” Jerden Hunley wrote on Hiking the Smokies Facebook page.
“Fourteen dollars to park for the trail is insane. Should quickly become the least visited trail. If they do this at all they should make it $1-$2 maybe. Looks like a money grab,” Kenny McDonald said.
“So this trail is the only trail my father could hike when he had terminal cancer and wanted to hike with the family. There is no possible way we could have done it in 2 hours! The time limit is ridiculous! I absolutely hate this idea,” Debbie Maddox Mosley said.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been the nation’s “most visited national park,” according to the National Park Service. It had 12.1 million visitors in 2020, the NPS says.
The 1.3-mile trail to Laurel Falls is among its most popular sites, with “more than 375,000 visits in 2020,” park officials said.
As a result, the nearby road, parking lot and trail have become unsafe at the height of the summer, officials said.
“Vehicles parked along the roadside obstruct the flow of traffic and create blind-spots for motorists, while visitors walking to or from their vehicles in the lanes of traffic are at risk of being struck by passing vehicles,” park officials said. “Roadside parking also impacts adjacent habitats, damages road edges, and causes erosion.”
It’s hoped requiring reservations will spread out visitation. The two-hour parking limit is based on a survey that showed most people finished the waterfall trail in about 90 minutes, officials said.
The idea for reservations and fees was suggested during a series of eight public workshops held virtually last fall to address “congestion and crowding in the park,” NPS officials said.
Some of the backers took to social media to defend the idea as critical to saving the park.
“Absolutely needed. We are loving our park to the point of destruction. The beauty of this area needs managing or risk losing it forever,” Barbara Rabek wrote on Facebook.
“This should have been done years ago and needs to be done in other areas of the park. The park is way too crowded,” Chelsea Ballard said.