More than $10 million in improvements coming soon to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

‘Park it Forward’ and camping fees will support increased ranger presence, improved visitor experience and more

GATLINBURG, Tenn.—In the first year since Great Smoky Mountains National Park launched the Park it Forward program, the park generated over $10 million in recreation fee revenue, which includes parking tag sales and camping fees. The park is using this money to improve visitor safety, increase park ranger presence, and repair, enhance and maintain public park facilities. The park’s second year of the parking tag program began this month.  

“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.” 

Launched in March 2023, Park it Forward was designed to provide critical support to protect and enhance the visitor experience at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, now and into the future. Park users directly contribute to protecting the park when they purchase a $5 daily, $15 weekly, or $40 annual parking tag. The park also increased frontcountry and backcountry camping fees starting in March 2023. One hundred percent of the funds generated by park fees stays in the Smokies.  

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is using recreation fee revenue funds to:  

Improve visitor safety. We’ve started the park’s first Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) team. These seven rangers aim to reduce search and rescue missions through visitor preparation, education and information—look for them on the trails this summer! They are also highly trained medics and EMS professionals who will respond to search and rescue incidents throughout the park. 

We’re also bringing on a team of arborists to quickly remove hazard and downed trees that may block roads or create unsafe conditions, especially after major storms. 

Increase park ranger presence. We’ve hired eight roving park rangers who travel across the park providing information to visitors. Since they were hired in March 2023, these rangers have made more than 117,000 visitor contacts, picked up over 612 pounds of trash, and assisted with dozens of search and rescue missions, motor vehicle accidents and wildlife incidents. 

Improve roads and facilities. We’re hiring additional maintenance employees to help us better maintain roads, bridges, and tunnels in the park. These crews will be able to repair road shoulders, patch potholes, and replace damaged signs and fences more quickly across the park. We will also use recreation fee revenue for campground and picnic area maintenance, to replace horse stalls at Tow String Horse Camp, resurface the Cosby access road and replace sidewalks in the Cosby picnic area. Future recreation fee funds will allow us to continue to make improvements at several campgrounds throughout the park.  

Enhance visitor experience. Recreation fee revenue will fund the construction of 50 new parking places at Laurel Falls Trailhead that will begin later this year. Revenue will also be used to rehabilitate Mingus Mill, a historic gristmill near Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and provide accessible amenities and campsites at Look Rock Campground. We are also replacing steel bear-proof dumpsters across the park and will increase the cleaning cycle at some of the park’s most used restrooms, like at 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 $40 annual parking tags are available for purchase online through Smokies Life. The $5 daily and $15 weekly parking tags are available for purchase at recreation.gov or by credit card at more than 30 kiosks located in parking lots across the park. All parking tag types are also available for purchase at Smokies Life store locations. Annual tags are valid for one year from the date of purchase. 

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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