You are here

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Planning To Implement Backcountry Fees In 2013


A backcountry fee system will be implemented in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013, unless a legal challenge derails it.

The fee, for overnight stays in the park's backcountry, has been talked about and debated for more than a year. Under the plan, backcountry travelers, whether on foot or horseback, will be charged $4 per night per person, up to a ceiling of $20 for seven days.

Park officials say the money raised through this program will be used to pay for a better reservations system, and more backcountry rangers.

However, a contingent of Great Smoky's backcountry users, organized as Southern Forest Watch, maintains park officials overlooked the vast opposition to the fee proposal that was voiced during the public comment period. In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and Superintendent Ditmanson, attorney J. Myers Morton maintains the fee is "a tax on us without our consent...a tax on us in violation of the law...a tax on us based on deceit."

In the letter, which notified the federal officials that a lawsuit would be forthcoming, Mr. Myers maintains that the Park Service lacks the authority to impose the backcountry fee.

Great Smokies officials have been working with a software company to create a reservation system different than the system many other national parks use for reservations. This new system, based off one used at Zion National Park in Utah, is seen as being able to provide users with the ability to make backcountry reservations every day of the week at any time of day.

"Reservations may be made at any time up to 30 days in advance, allowing maximum flexibility for those making last minute plans," a park release said. "Backcountry users will no longer be required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations. Reservation and permit requests will also be accepted in person at the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center."

The reservation software still is being created and tested, though park officials hope to have it on-line for public use early in the new year.

“It is anticipated the on-line reservation and permit system will be available to the public within the first few months of 2013,” said Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "We will provide notification of a specific implementation date later this year.”

In an effort to address questions about the change, the park has created an "FAQ" page that runs through a variety of quesions about the reservation system, ranging from whether an annual backcountry pass can be purchased (No) to whether there's a discount for children or North Carolina and Tennessee residents (No).


More backcountry rangers? I'm pretty certain that NPS has stated that the $4 fee collected will only fund the reservation line. Do the math, there is no way enough funds would be collected to pay for extra rangers. Simply not enough backcountry campers. And there will be even less if this fee comes to fruition.

Do you want one example of the National Park Service's disinformation and dishonesty?

The very park release in this article is disingenuous:

"Backcountry users will no longer be required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations. Reservation and permit requests will also be accepted in person at the Backcountry Office, which is located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center."

Backcountry campers are not required to call the Backcountry Office to obtain reservations NOW on 75% of all campsites. You only make reservations on 25% of the campsites. The rest, you just fill out a form, stick it in 1 of several boxes and drive to the trailhead. You call noone.

There is much, much more disinformation and dishonesty coming out of these government employees.

Wait a minute. Before we throw the NPS under the bus let's think a little bit. Ok, so the NPS wants to make a few bucks off people camping in the backcountry at GSMNP. Face the facts. At almost any other park you would have to pay an entrance fee just to get in. Last time I was at GSMNP there was no entrance fee yet it is one of the most heavily used sites in the system. $4 per night or $20 maximum seems reasonable for the experience you get. Heck, I pay $9 for a movie at the cheap times. And that's only me and only for a couple of hours.

We need to realize that, given the budgetary restraints that government and individuals have, we can't always have our park experiences for free. It seems like a reasonable fee for a backcountry camping experience.

Also, if you are just filling out a form at the trailhead you are not "making a reservation", you are registering your experience. A reservation system allows the park management to keep up with who's out there and where, valuable information for them if you happen upon unforseen, unfortunate circumstances. And it allows management to establish use patterns, spread out the impacts of use and enhance everyone's backcountry experience by making sure everyone is not camped on top of each other. There are many benefits to a reservation system. Let's not throw the idea under the bus along with the park service.

Ranger Dave - NPS isn't making any money (so they say) off the $4. It goes soley to fund a reservation line. And aren't we already paying for backcountry experiences via federal income tax? Now we have to pay again? The GSMNP roads and parking lots are the most heavily used in the system, I will agree. Meanwhile the backcountry is virtually empty.

And why isn't NPS charging cars and horses to use the park? They do far more damage and use up FAR more Park resources than a backpacker could ever do.

NPS is testing the waters to open a floodgate of GSMNP fees. $4/night will become $10 before we know it. Boy Scouts and other groups will be priced right out of the park. Fine by NPS I suppose, they seem content to keep everyone in their cars anyway.

Ranger Dave, I'm sympathetic to all those issues. And I know that the law prohibits an entrance fee on the main highway.

But this particular fee discriminates, and in a particularly invidious way: it asks backcountry users who go into the backcountry to get away from the frontcountry to pay for services that frontcountry users consume.

It would be more honest to put parking meters in the visitor center and turnout lots to collect revenue from the automobile tourists who dominate the park. A tollbooth at Cades Cove would also align fee-payers and service beneficiaries more effectively. Neither option would impose a fee on Highway 441 in violation of agreements with NC & TN.

Ranger Dave.

Okay. Assuming the LAW allowed the GSMP "to make a few bucks" on backpackers, why the disinformation, false justifications and hogwash?

Your last paragraph may reveal the Park Service's true motiviation. Control.

As a tax paying "front country" user in the Great Smoky Mountains, I am appalled by the self-centeredness of our "backcountry" users who resent having to pay a $4 fee to tramp through the park, use the facilities, leave behind horse manure and Power Bar wrappers on the trails, and otherwise consume the same environment for which I pay upwards of $20 a night, with no ceiling on our fees. Enough with your arrogance! You don't own the park, anymore than we do. You owe the park, and the National Park Service, your support. One Power Bar less a day will not break the bank and will mean cleaner trails for the rest of us.


What facilities?

That's the point!

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments