You are here

Opponents To Backcountry Fees At Great Smoky Mountains National Park Seeking Counties' Support


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.


Good way to avoid the hard questions, Zebulon. Just like the NPS, you change the subject and deflect attention from the real issue at hand.

Tom, your explanation makes it indeed sound like a solution in search of a problem. As for Smokies, you clearly have an agenda that goes beyond the fee.

Seems to me that in general, we have a basic problem of funding decreasing and fixed costs increasing (as far as I can tell, there is no talk of reducing benefits/salaries of NPS employees), so the search for new funding sources will go on unabated.


Usage of what? donated to the NPS by local Tennesseans and North Carolinians? backcountry campsites maintained by volunteers? trials maintained by volunteers? bear cables provided by volunteer money? What amenities are provided in the backcountry for which we owe the NPS? The answer is nothing. Folks like you have ignored the basic question that we have been asking for years. IS it okay to change your justification for the fee when your first assertions are proven false? The NPS instituted a reservations system that the public objected to in the first place for campsites that are empty most all of the time. Your implication that there is this great drain of resources on the Smokies backcountry is just uninformed. How do you justify that horses, automobiles and inner tubers get a free pass and backcountry campers end up paying essentially the same as someone who drives an RV into the front country. There is no drain on the vein from the backcountry and they are taxing that user group because of a bad, bad interpretation of FLREA.

What is wrong is wrong and regardless of what you may think, the Smokies is a donated park. Just a fraction of federal money is involved in its creation unlike the parks out west. There are people talking on both sides of the smokies about revoking federal privileges on this land because of the lies used to double tax one user group. I hope this upcoming lawsuit upends the entire NPS and their culture of data manipulation. It will have implications for every unit and all because they wanted to get their foot in the door with a small fee group. Stupid management policy here. They've already lost millions of dollars in backlash. They didn't do their homework and the result is a revolt. A tax revolt for a righteous cause that gains momentum daily.

Zeb - the absurdity of all this is that this fee is not for use of the backcountry camp sites. It's for use of the online reservation system. A reservation system that was stated as "unecessary" by the vast majority of actual users. Even more maddening is that the reservation fee is assessed per person, not per campsite or per reservation. So my backcountry wkd with the family costs more than the same size group at a front-country campsite...the latter with a lot more amenities which I'm sure you know.

And no one has yet explained why only backcountry campers are assessed a fee. Automobile tourists cruising Cades Cover require a lot more park resources than a guy sleeping on the ground.

Smokies, this is not a metaphor on tax policy... It seems like a pretty straight forward way of charging users for their usage. And at $4 a pop, it's most likely way under cost. Now, we can have a separate discussion on whether the NPS spends wisely, but that's another subject.

It's not free Zebulon. We pay for it in the terms of taxes. Lots of them. As a matter of fact, the smokies got 80 million extra dollars in stimulus. They need to operate within their budgets like the rest of us. The time for bailouts of entities, corporate or federal, are over. People are standing strong against it and you are a shrinking minority if you think double taxation is wise policy. Should you have to pay the police dept again when they come to your house? We sleep on the ground and use no services or amenities of the park service. Even the bear cables are provided by volunteer funding. Explain to me how charging one group and one group only (backcountry campers) is equitable in a system where automobiles require 98 percent of resources? You cant.

$4 a night seems pretty cheap to me, especially with a $20 cap. There's no free lunch.


I agree with the vociferous part; however, I understand you are sorely mistaken otherwise. You miss the point too. None of this fee will pay for anything other than the reservation system. All those public pronouncements by you the GSMNP administration have been flat out lies and deceit.

Some of us are motivated by a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

"Rebellion to tyrants, is obedience to God."

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