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Legal Challenge Coming To Backcountry Fee At Great Smoky Mountains National Park


It might not cost you extra to venture off into the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an overnighter next year. That's because the park's intentions to levy a $4 per person per night charge is going to face a legal challenge.

The fee is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry. Pinched by an inadequate budget and unable to charge an entrance fee for any of his roughly 9 million yearly visitors, Great Smoky Superintendent Dale Ditmanson sees no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.

“I’ve certainly been quoted as saying that I don’t have the same tools in my toolbox that the superintendents of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon have. Especially when the (fee) legislation authorizes 80 percent of that money to stay within the park," the superintendent told the Traveler back in February, referring to other parks that are able to charge entrance fees and keep most of the money. "We could do some really great things at the Smokies, but I just don’t have that tool at this time.”

But 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. Now they are turning to attorneys to continue their battle. In a letter sent last week 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 will be forthcoming, Mr. Myers maintains that the Park Service lacks the authority to impose the backcountry fee. He also highlights a section of Great Smokys' enabling legislation that states, “The Secretary shall not charge an entrance fee or standard amenity recreation fee for the following:

“...(E) Entrance on other routes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or any part thereof unless fees are charged for entrance into that park on main highways and thoroughfares...”

The letter goes beyond the issue of backcountry fees, charging that the park's administration illegally conveyed a 20-acre parcel of parkland to a former Tennessee governor, has been allowing ATVs from a nearby resort to illegally use a park hiking trail, and gives preference to backcountry trips run by corporations, such as REI.

The letter also notes that under discovery the plaintiffs expect to "uncover agreements and conveyances" pertaining to the property swap, and says that a new survey would show whether the ATVs were on trails inside the national park.

"Interestingly enough, our Declaration of Independence has a section describing various forms of tyranny of the English crown over the colonies. There are over 26 different examples of tyranny listed. One is '...For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent...,'" Mr. Morton wrote. "Your tyrannical action is being conducted in derogation of the values and purposes for which the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been established."


For me, it's not about the money. It's about the loss of ability to decide to go backpacking in the GSMNP on the spur of the moment. Now I can't decide on a beautiful Saturday morning to go camping 40 minutes from my house because I have not made a reservation days or weeks in advance and recieived permission from the Canadian owned reservation company. It's also about tyranny.This land is the property of THE PEOPLE of the United States of America. NOT the property of Dale Ditmanson and Blackberry Farms. I'll give Dale $4 to go away. How about that? His reasons for "needing" the money are pure lies and manipulation of the local people who love this very special and unique place. And Mr. Anonymous you are a coward. If you are ashamed of your opinion then you should probably keep it to yourself.

John, thanks. I would be opposed to the Smokies proposal if walkins are not part of the policy. Walkins should be held back for at least 50% in my view. The alleged comment by the Great Smokies Assistant Supt. is reprehensible in my opinion. There is no place in professional public service for such a comment to be made while on duty at public meeting, if in fact such a statement was made.


There is no allowance for walk ins, the elderly, boy scout groups or senior citizens. Ditmanson made this clear in a meeting with opposition members. He refused to negotiate, modify or adopt any of the suggestions made during the public comments. It is his way or the highway. All sites are reserved so they can pocket more cash. Most campsites average two campers per night. And they will be even more empty after this debacle. They want people out of the backcountry, it's just that simple. Backpackers are just an annonyance. They could be smoking pot back there, according to the assistant superintendent, Fitzgerald.

Thank you redstateguy, that was a question I had. If the fee is for a reservations service, I am comfortable with that. But I think it is pushing it to charge a fee for hiking the trail itself, ie first come first serve. Another question perhaps you can answer, are the daily quotas all by reservation or is there still a % for walkins? Thank for your informative post.

That's right to sleep on the ground! I've got a bad feeling about this. I've been to several national parks and its always good to come back to the beauty of the smokes, where i can smell the red spruce in the air, drink from the purest of springs, gaze over the horizon and see the smoky vapors arise from the depths of the valleys; oh wait a minute, huh, what's that no officer i mean ranger im just setting here enjoying my day in the mountains , my i.d. What for ? just shut up and let me see your permit!

The government want to charge me a fee, over and above my taxes, to sleep on the ground in the middle of the woods miles from amenities.

Is there an extra charge for using a rock as a pillow?

Uh Anonymous.

You are not paying attention.

The back packer tax RAISES NO EXCESS FUNDS. The back packer tax merely pays for the NEW reservation system. PERIOD.

Yes, a few of these comments from someone that can't even announce his or her name reminds of the days on inregards to the backcountry fee. Many half truths were said to gain acceptance for the fee and to turn people against the Actually to the point were they shut down the page.

It really sickens me of all the straight face lies from the very beginning.


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