Great Smoky Mountains National Park Receiving Political Push-Back On Backcountry Fee
It's not on the same scale as the Boston Tea Party, but the sentiment is there: Don't tax us for using the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
That movement, spurred in 2011 when John Quillen took exception to the park's approach to weighing public sentiment concerning fees for those who overnight in the Smokies' backcountry, has gained some support from the Blount County (Tennessee) Commission.
The commissioners narrowly (11-9, with one abstention) voted last week to go on record against the fee. That resolution carries no weight against the park, but with it in hand Mr. Quillen and others aligned with him under Southern Forest Watch are now looking to other counties that touch Great Smoky as well as the state of Tennessee for similar support.
"Despite the intervention of a prominent senator, our resolution condemning the Smokies' backcountry fee and calling for its repeal passed in the Blount County Commission following the impassioned pleas by nine Southern Forest Watch members," said Mr. Quillen, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and backpacks frequently in the park. "We will be pursuing similar resolutions to include a resolution by the state of Tennessee on the heels of this great victory for the cause."
The fee, $4 per person per night in the backcountry, up to $20 maximum, took effect February 13. 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 the roughly 9 million yearly visitors, park officials see no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.
Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson attended the commission meeting, and urged the commissioners to reject the resolution.
“The fact is, we began the civic engagement process almost two years ago,” he said. "What is completely overlooked in the resolution is the fee is generally improving customer service.”