Laurel Falls Congestion Management Pilot Project begins Sept. 7

GATLINBURG, Tenn. – Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that Laurel Falls Trail parking will be available by reservation only from Sept. 7 through Oct. 3, 2021 as part of the Laurel Falls Congestion Management Pilot Project. The pilot project aims to improve visitor safety, relieve congestion, better protect park resources, and enhance the visitor experience on Laurel Falls Trail. The 1.3-mile trail is one of the most popular trails in the park with more than 375,000 visits in 2020. 

During the pilot project, trailhead parking will be provided by reservation only and no parking will be permitted in undesignated areas along Little River Road. Parking reservations, for two-hour time blocks, may be made online at www.recreation.gov for a fee of $14 beginning on Aug. 24, 2021.  

“I want to thank the public for providing great feedback throughout the process of developing this pilot project,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The concept was borne out of public workshops last fall and further refined after the latest public meeting as we strive to address safety and congestion challenges at this busy site.” 

The park collected public comments on the congestion management pilot project from July 20 through August 7. The park received 150 submissions from 18 states, with 70% coming from Tennessee residents. The most prevalent comment, representing 42% of submissions, included concerns about the parking reservation fee amount. The second most prevalent comment, representing 22% of submissions, expressed general support of the pilot project effort, while 6% of submissions expressed opposition.   

The high-level of Laurel Falls Trail use has resulted in congestion along the trail, crowding at the falls, and unsafe conditions along Little River Road. 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. Roadside parking also impacts adjacent habitats, damages road edges, and causes erosion. 

Managing parking through a reservation system is expected to spread use more evenly throughout the day, creating a less crowded and more enjoyable experience on the trail and at the falls. The two-hour timeframe for parking reservations is based on monitoring data collected this summer. On average, most hikers complete the hike in 90 minutes. Park staff will be on hand to actively manage parking and monitor conditions during the pilot. The information learned during this pilot will help the park make more informed decisions about how to manage the area in the future. 

During the pilot, hikers who plan to utilize the Laurel Falls Trail parking area to use Sugarland Mountain Trail must also obtain a parking reservation to park at the trailhead. If hikers plan to be on trail for longer than the allotted two-hour time block, they must use a different trailhead and are encouraged to contact the Backcountry Office for more information on other trail access points. Additionally, Rocky Top Tours will provide shuttle access to the trailhead from nearby, Gatlinburg, Tenn. for a fee of $5 per person. Information about the shuttle can be found at www.rockytoptours.com.   For more information about congestion monitoring in the park, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/ves.htm

About Brad Jones

Brad is the Owner/Operator of BBB TV 12, and has been with the company since August of 1996. Brad is a 1987 graduate of Coalfield High School and a 1995 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Communications. He won the 1995 broadcast production student of the year award. Brad worked at Shop at Home, Inc. a home shopping network that was located in Knoxville, TN from 1993 - 1995 and then at Via TV (RSTV, Inc.) from 1995 - 1996. After some freelance work in Nashville, Brad joined the BBB Communications staff in August of 1996. A short stint at WVLT TV as a news photographer was in 2001, but he continued to work at BBB TV as well. Brad is married to Nicole Jenkins Jones, a 1990 graduate of Oak Ridge High School, who works at Oak Ridge Gastroenterology and Associates in Oak Ridge. They have 3 kids, Trevor Bogard, 27, Chandler 22, and Naomi 13. On December 12, 2013 they welcomed their first grandchild, Carter Ryan Bogard. Brad is also the assistant boys basketball coach at Coalfield High School for the past 11 years. In 2013-14 the Yellow Jackets won their first district title since 1991 and just the 4th in school history.

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