Opponents to the backcountry fee at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are trying to line up the support of county officials surrounding the park.
The fee, $4 per person per night in the backcountry, up to $20 maximum, took effect last week. 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.
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. In maintaining 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," the organization plans to sue the park over the fee.
To gain support for their cause, Southern Forest Watch organizers have been meeting with officials from counties surrounding Great Smoky.
On Thursday, the Blount County (Tennessee) Commission is scheduled to read for a second and final time a resolution against the fee.
"What this resolution hopes to do is let the Park Service know that we as a county, one of the seven counties that border the park, disagree with the fee," Blount County Commissioner Tab Burkhalter told a Knoxville, Tennessee, news organization.
John Quillen, who spearheaded the effort to defeat the fee, says "other counties (are) awaiting the outcome of this resolution."
"The (park) superintendent has cancelled a trip to Washington to speak before the commission Thursday," Mr. Quillen told the Traveler. "He even had the nerve to ask our sponsor, Tab Burkhalter, to remove the resolution entirely from the committee."
A park-specific reservation and permit system went live on February 13. It allows backcountry campers to make reservations and obtain permits online from anywhere Internet access is available. Reservations may be made at any time up to 30 days in advance.
Appalachian Trail thru-hikers may obtain a permit through the reservation system up to 30 days in advance of the date they anticipate being in the park and are required to carry a paper copy with them while they are hiking through the park. Their permit is valid up to 38 days from the date they obtain it.