Over the past year, park officials have reviewed public comments, operating costs and projected budget levels to settle on rate increases that range from 10 to 25 percent at various locations. The current fees have not increased since 2006 or earlier — except for Cataloochee Campground, which saw an increase in 2011 — and the rate increases were needed to meet rising operating costs, reduce a maintenance backlog on park facilities and allow for improvements.
“Maintaining and servicing these facilities in the mountains presents a unique set of challenges and, with increasing costs, these fee increases are necessary to ensure the continual care and operation of these special places,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
New fees will range from $17.50 to $27 per night at campgrounds; $30 to $75 at group campgrounds; $23 to $29 at horse campgrounds; and $12.50 to $80 at picnic pavilions.
The park operates nine open campgrounds, seven group campgrounds, six picnic pavilions and five horse campgrounds. Beginning in March, three more of these campgrounds — Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain and Big Creek — will be added to the National Recreation Reservation System to improve operational efficiency. Sites at these campgrounds will then require advanced registration at www.recreation.gov or by phone, eliminating the need for staff time to collect fees.
The park retains 100 percent of its camping and pavilion fees, with proceeds used to maintain and operate those facilities. Some revenues also go to maintain park infrastructure and other special projects outside of these sites.