KENNESAW MOUNTAIN — For 84 years, people have been visiting the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in the millions, enjoying at no cost almost 3,000 acres of nature crisscrossed with 18 miles of walking trails and peppered with historic sites.
But starting Nov. 13, there will be a $5 daily charge for every vehicle parked in one of the national park’s nine parking lots.
Frequent visitors will also be able to buy a $40 annual parking pass or use a federal pass for national parks and recreation areas if they have one.
Some senior and military passes will also be accepted in place of the parking fee.
The change has been a couple of years in the making, and has involved public feedback, the majority of which was supportive toward the parking fee, park superintendent Nancy Walther said.
“We believe visitors will generally understand our need to enhance the park’s recreational experience,” she said. “Once funds from this program are in place, we will add a public restroom to the south end of the park and purchase an additional shuttle bus to transport more visitors up the mountain.”
Well over two million people visit the park each year. If just half that number paid a $5 parking fee, it would amount to more than $6.5 million in annual revenue for the park.
Established in 1935, the park has had no means of generating revenue until now.
The money it collects from the parking fees will also be used for earthwork stabilization, visitor safety, trail stabilization and repair, cannon restoration at outdoor cannon displays, youth programs, historical exhibits and internship opportunities.
“Vehicle entrance fees will enable the park to enhance visitor safety measures, address deferred maintenance and improve visitor services,” Walther said.
Eventually, park staff plan to expand the existing shuttle service to operate seven days a week, allowing the closure of the mountain road to private vehicles.
Until then, the shuttle runs weekends to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Visitors can drive their own vehicles up the road during weekdays.
Other parks in metro Atlanta already charge visitor fees. Stone Mountain, for example, charges a $20 single-day parking fee or $40 for a yearly pass.
The MDJ spoke with several regular users of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park as they walked near the park’s visitor center on Tuesday.
A retired Vinings couple, who walk in the park every other week, had not heard of the new parking fee but said they would be happy to buy a $40 annual pass, as they do for other parks.
Entry to the Sweetwater Creek State Park, about 16 miles south of Kennesaw Mountain, costs $5 per day, or $50 a year.
Another Cobb resident walking her dog at Kennesaw Mountain on Tuesday afternoon told the MDJ the new charge isn’t likely to deter many people.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said she has been visiting the park since 1976 and noticed its popularity skyrocket in recent years.
At lunchtime Tuesday there were about 80 vehicles in the park’s main parking lot, near the visitor center, and another dozen in the nearby overflow parking lot on Old 41 Highway.
The National Park Service confirmed Kennesaw Mountain had 2.59 million visitors in 2017, a record at the time.
It was in the fall of that year public comment started being gathered on the possibility of introducing parking fees.
The requisite federal registry comment time ended in February this year, Walther said.
Beginning Nov. 13, visitors must either have already bought a corresponding parking pass online, at www.recreation.gov, or get one at the park’s visitor center.
The park will not accept cash, so visitors will need a credit or debit card to pay.