(NPS press release) The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking public input on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project. The pilot would address visitor experience, safety, and parking congestion at one of the park’s busiest trails from Sept. 7 through Oct. 3, 2021.
During the pilot project period, parking in undesignated areas would be prohibited. Parking at the trailhead would be provided by reservation only through recreation.gov for a fee of $14 per car. Alternatively, visitors could access the trailhead via shuttle service from Gatlinburg for a fee of $5 per person. Park managers propose implementing these temporary measures to assess their effectiveness in reducing congestion, enhancing visitor safety, and creating a more enjoyable Laurel Falls Trail experience. Information gathered during this pilot will be used to inform the alternatives developed in the previously announced Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan, which is also open for preliminary public comment.
A virtual public meeting to discuss the Laurel Falls Trail Management Plan and the Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project will take place on Thursday, July 22 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT. During the first 30 minutes of the meeting, the NPS will present an overview of the proposals with the remainder of the meeting reserved for a question and answer session. It is recommended that participants join the meeting five to 10 minutes early to test audio and internet connections. Additionally, participants are welcome to call in on listen only mode, and not view the presentation, by dialing 312-626-6799 and entering passcode 83225451780#.
Public commenting on the Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project is open from July 20, 2021 through Aug. 7, 2021 and includes opportunities to submit written comments, along with participating in the July 22 public meeting. Written comments may be submitted:
Online (the preferred method)
Select “Open for Comment” on the left menu bar, open the Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project folder and click on the green “Comment Now” button to access the online commenting form; or
By Postal Mail
Send comments to:
Superintendent Cassius Cash
Attn: Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Rd.
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Written comments on the initial draft of the Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project must be submitted online or be postmarked by Aug. 7, 2021 to be considered.
About Laurel Falls Trailhead: The Laurel Falls Trailhead is located approximately 5.5 miles from the Gatlinburg, Tennessee entrance to the park. The paved trail leads 1.3 miles to 80-foot high Laurel Falls, and then ascends to the Cove Mountain Fire Lookout. The relatively short hike to the falls and proximity to a major park entrance makes Laurel Falls Trail one of the most popular destinations in the park with nearly 350,000 visitors per year. Parking along the road shoulder frequently extends along one mile of Little River Road creating a safety hazard and contributing to resource damage along the road shoulder.
For more information about the proposed Laurel Falls Trail Congestion Management Pilot Project, including public meeting details, virtual long-in instructions and more, visit the planning website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/LaurelFallsPilot.