“Parking is a huge issue in Bryson City,” according to Swain County Chamber of Commerce President Carolyn Allison. “The growth of the community has outpaced the original layout and the plan of the town.”
Walking down jam-packed Everett Street (the main street of Bryson City’s downtown area) at the height of tourist season in July, the dire need for a solution to the parking shortage is obvious. When asked if the city had a problem with parking, every business owner interviewed had the same exasperated reaction, and most couldn’t say enough about their frustration with the issue.
“In one word — impossible,” said Bob Carroll, a long-time Bryson City resident who was behind the counter at the Filling Station.
Jodi Kesselring, who owns the Herb Shoppe, said she and her husband have “been to hell and back” trying to deal with the parking crisis. On this particular morning, she rode around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking spot.
“People back into each others’ cars all day,” she said, looking out her shop window.
Kesselring has approached town alderman about the problem, and said there’s got to be a solution.
Across the street at Julie’s Hair and Tanning Spa, owners Gary and Julie Pasternak share Kesselring’s frustration. A for sale sign hangs in the window of their building, and Julie explains they are having to relocate because there weren’t any parking spots for clients. Customers coming in for a hair or nail appointments would frequently be late because they could not find a place to park.
The train factor
One factor unique to Bryson City that contributes to the town’s parking shortage is the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which has a depot in the heart of downtown. The train has a parking lot, but charges $3 for its passengers to use it. To avoid paying the fee, some customers of the train opt to park in the free parking spots lining Main Street. That takes up valuable space for the four to five hours they are on the train.
“The railroad I do know does tell their guests that there is a fee for parking, so the visitors do choose to park along the road, and it is a problem with the merchants. People that run in and out (of businesses) do not have a convenient place to park,” Allison said.
Though most business owners interviewed said the situation with train passengers has gotten a little better than in the past, Kesselring said she and other businesses “still have that problem with the train.”
Finding a solution to the problem of train passengers may be difficult. Connie Suthers, Communications Coordinator for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, said there’s only so much the train can do.
“It’s a long-going issue, but we have no control over where they park,” said Suthers.
Suthers herself doesn’t understand why passengers wouldn’t take advantage of the $3 lot.
“I’ve been by the depot and seen people circle, drive around and waste enough gas to pay the $3 parking,” she said.
A second factor besides the train that contributes to the parking problem in Bryson is the lack of enforcement. Bryson City Police Chief Rick Tabor, who admits the city is having a tremendous problem with parking, explained that his force is too strapped to deal with it.
“We really don’t have an officer to dedicate to the parking situation,” said Tabor.
Though the town issues tickets for parking in a handicapped space or a fire lane, they do not enforce the 2-hour parking time limit indicated by signs along Main Street. Tabor said he has occasionally had a car towed from a parking spot, but only after it has been there more than 24 hours.
“We’re having a tremendous problem, and we’re going to have to do something about it,” said Tabor. “Our streets are not designed for the volume of parking we have. As the population increases, the parking situation is only going to get worse.”
Business owners offered a range of suggestions to alleviate the parking problem – the county could rent space to employees; the train could allow people to park in their lot for free; officers could begin to ticket or the city could put in meters. One thing everyone agreed on, though, was the pressing need for a meeting between the town, train representatives, and local business owners.
“Just letting things happen the way they are,” will be impossible in the very near future, said Allison.