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Tennessee's House Of Representatives Opposes Backcountry Fee At Great Smoky Mountains National Park


In its biggest political coup to date, a group fighting the backcountry fees charged at Great Smoky Mountains National Park has gotten the backing of the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

In a proclamation adopted April 9, the House expressed its "opposition to the imposition of any backcountry camping fees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are not directly associated with the use of amenities or a commercial purpose and strongly urge an immediate appeal of any such imposed fee."

Previously, the Knox County (Tennessee) Commission, as well the commissions in Bradley and Blount counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina, condemned the fee and called for its repeal.

The backcountry fee of $4 per night per person, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect February 13. It 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 say they see no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.

The park can't charge an entrance fee because the state of Tennessee, when it agreed to transfer land to the federal government for the park, essentially forbade it.

"By condemning and calling for a repeal of this hugely unpopular and specious tax on backcountry users, the State of Tennessee has proven its intent to provide a voice for citizens that was ignored by the National Park Service as evidenced in the public comments that tallied 18-1 in opposition to the fee," said a statement from Southern Forest Watch, a non-profit group organized to lobby for the fee's repeal.


I think a nominal fee is appropriate. There is no fee to enter the park and they do charge fees for campgrounds. A small backcountry fee is a good idea, since it will help fund any SAR efforts and help maintain trails and campsites.

I have to give some credit to the wikipedia entry for ReserveAmerica which mentions the Forest Service contract and, without source citations. Basically, doing a web search on "forest service contract" or "forest service budget" brought up some of those sources. is mentioned in most of the FS's budget justifications going back to at least FY07. FY14 budget said this on pg 12-19:

"The Forest Service is the contracting agency for the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS), part of, an egovernment initiative. The contract is valued at $100 million to provide reservations for all recreation facilities on public lands that allow reservations. One task of administering the contract is to manage the pass through account for the reservation fees for all agencies. Over $13,000,000 annually is included in this program, and as more sites come on to the reservation system throughout the entire federal public lands system, this account will continue to grow. This program also requires five percent of the recreation fee collections to go towards regional offices that provides strategic program oversight, financial management, training, and grants to forests for improvements/special projects on the ground."

On page 12-18, the report does indicate that $12M of Forest Service recreation revenue comes from the National Recreation Reservation Service.

I did find what looks like the original contract solicitation and award on There is not a lot of detail, but the original contract award was for $128M.

GRSM initially received authorization to charge the fee under the condition they use Here is a page in their correspondence says that the costs will go to pay for the reservation system and no additional revenue will be generated as a result of the fee, only to cover the service costs. What did GRSM do? They abandoned in favor of their "own" system? What does this mean? That their system costs a quarter million per year? I don't know but here is a link to the document which says that. Check out page 4, paragraph 3. Just another misrepresentation by Dale Ditmanson regarding this fee.

And thank you KBenzar for illuminating A canadian force driving fees in our national parks. They are now handling the "firefly" crisis for us here in the Smokies. How did we ever exist without them?

Amen, Lee Dalton. Facts are much appreciated. Thanks to Sara!

Sara, you amaze me. Thanks. We need more folks like you who are able to lay out facts instead of opinions.

I found this 2005 news release on the Forest Service website:

"The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service today announced the award of a contract to provide a single, interagency federal recreation information and reservation service called the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS).

The three and a half-year, performance-based service contract was awarded to ReserveAmerica of Ballston Spa, N.Y. The contract provides for additional option periods for a total contract period not to exceed 10 years with a total potential value of $97 million."

In 2009, The Active Network acquired ReserveAmerica and thus the Forest Service contract. (

I found this on pg 12-9 of the FY13 Forest Service budget justification:

"The Forest Service is the contracting agency for the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS), part of, an e-government initiative. The Forest Service has extended the contract through FY 2013, valued at $100 million to provide reservations for all recreation facilities on public lands that allow reservations."

The domain must be registered to the Forest Service as only government entities in the U.S. can use .gov domains. What's not clear is whether the reservation system pays for itself, but you would hope at $10/reservation it is.

ecbuck, you're right. I didn't understand your point. Could you clarify please?

Mtnhiker - obviously the reference to your symantic juggling went over your head.

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