Tennessee Sens. Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander are trying to ensure the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can keep all the fees it collects, according to a report in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The nation’s most-visited park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border is barred by land deed restrictions from charging a general entrance fee.
But the Smokies still collects about $1.3 million to $1.6 million a year from fees for campground use and ranger-guided hayrides, Smokies spokesman Bob Miller said.
Since 1998, the Smokies has been allowed to keep all of the fee money. But the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act approved last year inadvertently required the Smokies to send 20% of its fees back to National Park Service headquarters, which could cost $260,000 to $320,000 annually.
Senate Majority Leader Frist is championing an amendment to the Interior Department’s annual funding bill that would redirect the money to the Smokies.
The Senate has accepted the amendment, but the House must follow suit before President Bush can approve the legislation. Miller said he is optimistic that will happen before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
“We can’t afford to take a $250,000 or $300,000 cut,” Miller said. “It would challenge us to keep operating the facilities if we had to take a reduction in the money we keep to run them.”
Frist said it “quite simply is a question of fairness. This amendment will allow the Smokies to retain hundreds of thousands of dollars … which can be reinvested in preserving and maintaining” the park.