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‘Park it Forward’ program generates $10M+ for Smokies improvements

(Photo Credit: WATE) From WATE in Knoxville: More than $10 million in improvements are coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park thanks to th

(Photo Credit: WATE)

From WATE in Knoxville: More than $10 million in improvements are coming to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park thanks to the “Park it Forward” program.


The park shared in a release that more than $10 million in recreation fee revenue was generated through park tag sales and camping fees in the program’s inaugural year. The funds will be used to improve visitor safety, increase park ranger presence, and repair, enhance and maintain public park facilities. All of the money generated by park fees stays in the Smokies.

“Our team at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is grateful for the support of our partners, our neighbors and the millions of visitors who are helping us take care of one of the country’s most visited national parks,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We’re already using this funding to increase our search and rescue program, add parking spaces at Laurel Falls trailhead and we are in the process of hiring more than 25 new park rangers.”


Some of the improvements include the hiring of the park’s first Preventative Search and Rescue Team, a team of arborists who can help quickly remove hazard and downed trees that may block roads or create unsafe conditions, and hiring additional maintenance employees to maintain roads, bridges, and tunnels in the park.


In March 2023, the park hired eight roving park rangers who travel across the park providing information to visitors. Since they were hired, they have had more than 117,000 contacts with visitors, picked up more than 600 pounds of trash, and assisted with dozens of search and rescue missions, motor vehicle accidents and wildlife incidents.


The funds are also being used to replace the horse stalls at Tow Sting Horse Camp, resurface the Cosby access road and replace sidewalks in the Cosby picnic area, and construct 50 new parking spaces at the Laurel Falls Trailhead.


Funds are also helping to rehabilitate Mingus Mill, and provide accessible amenities and campsites at Look Rock Campground, in addition to replacing steel bear-proof dumpsters across the park. Finally, the park shared that the funds will also be used to increase the cleaning cycle at some of the park’s most used restrooms, like the Sugarlands Visitor Center.


“There’s so much more to come—our team continues to plan fee-funded projects for future years to address needed maintenance and to improve your experience in the park,” said Superintendent Cash. “We look forward to continuing to demonstrate the value of this historic investment in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”


The “Park it Forward” program started in March 2023, and was designed to protect and enhance the visitor experience at the park, both now and in the future.


The second year of the parking tag program started in March. The parking passes are required for anyone parking in the GSMNP for longer than 15 minutes. Although a single day pas is $5, Weekly passes are available for 415 and annual passes are available for $40. The tags are available for purchase in person and at kiosks in the park and online.