You are here

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.


Hmmmm. Very, very interesting, KBenzar. Very interesting. Thanks for the tip.

It sounds like this is something that one of Kurt's crack investigators could have some fun researching. I see from their website that one of their locations is just south of me in Draper, Utah.

I keep wondering if there is ANYTHING in the world anymore that is just a plain, ordinary, straightforward operation that doesn't have a web of mystery surrounding it to protect their interests -- whatever those interests may happen to be.

Lee Dalton, ReserveAmerica and are the same thing. Both are under a multinational corporation called The Active Network, which has been in the financial news lately accused of accounting irregularities.

Their CEO and Executive Director both "resigned" abruptly on May 1st.

ecbuck -- you said: Hmm mountain hiker. Why don't we limit the number of horses, or hikers or cars and then implement a reservation system. Then it would be a reservation fee and not an entrance fee.

If the horsemen or hikers or car drivers are staying overnight, they already pay a reservation fee. All campers pay a reservation fee. But no one is restricted from accessing the park during the day.

As for limitation, I can see that certain limitation occurs in terms of accommodations (for instance, no more than a certain number of campers per site, whether frontcountry, backcountry or horse camps). I don't anyplace where the number of people are limited beyond that. Are you suggesting that people should be limited in terms of access to GSMNP?

No, Kurt, I didn't. But I already know there is a cancellation fee for -- although I've never had to use it. And I've also found it much easier and more comfortable for this old man to use the telephone instead of computer to make a reservation. Somehow it seems to me that talking with a real, live human is better. Also, at City of Rocks, the reservations are made through ReserveAmerica and not

And yes, while it may seem to be a bit high, I don't think it's totally unreasonable. Even with sophisticated software, there still need to be people behind the equipment. And, once a reservation has been made, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that must be done.

For example, I've frequently camped in campgrounds that contain notes on campsite markers declaring that particular campsite is "Reserved" for such and such dates. I don't know exactly what the process involved is, but someone in the campground must walk around and post those notes. Then, if a cancellation occurs, the notes must be removed.

But does any of the cancellation fee (or reservation fee, for that matter) get passed along to whatever entitity is running the campground? I don't know.

Delving into the mysteries of reservation systems might be a good assignment for one your top investigative reporters.

Lee, did you check the cancellation fee? When I was looking into campgrounds at Lassen Volcanic National Park, I saw not only the reservation fee, but a $10 cancellation fee. And if you read the fine print, your reservation fee is non-refundable. So if you pay $10 to make a reservation for a $16-$18 a night campsite, and then cancel, you've essentially spent $20 for the privilege of using They really can get you coming and going....with today's sophisticated software, those fees seem a bit excessive for a campsite.

Speaking of fees for making a reservation, I just reserved a campsite at City of Rocks National Preserve in Idaho. CIRO is a joint NPS / Idaho State Parks site that is somehow dually administered by the two agencies. Camping is apparently controlled by the state park system and reservations must be made through them.

Campsites are $12.72 per night (including Idaho tax) and the Golden Age pass is not valid. Just after I hung up, I realized that the bill had been $48 instead of the expected $38 or whatever. So I called back, thinking they might have misunderstood and reserved the site for four instead of only three nights.

That's when they told me about a $10 reservation fee that is tacked onto each application. Reasonable? Unreasonable?

Me, I think it's a bit high, but not unreasonable. Idaho's taxpayers are not paying for my recreation beyond helping to keep a very delightful place open for me to enjoy. That seems fair enough.

Hmm mountain hiker. Why don't we limit the number of horses, or hikers or cars and then implement a reservation system. Then it would be a reservation fee and not an entrance fee.

SmokiesBackpacker, like I said, I don't know all the reasons, only the park management can address the reasons why this was thought to be something that needed to be done. I can say with all confidence that I don't believe it was just to charge someone a fee because they could. I don't believe any human would subject themselves to what he is going through on purpose and without good reason. And I also know he didn't come to this decision in a vacuum. Others were involved in it for sure. Many times I hear complaints from guests that never make it on paper. It's hard to say if that was the case here. I just hope it gets worked out to a reasonable solution and no one is damaged beyond repair. If wrong-doing took place it needs to be rooted out but it is not prevalant within the system. This I feel strongly about. I hope you get the answers you are looking for. Now, for the next issue, Do Dogs and National Parks Mix?

PS: Thanks, Lee Dalton.

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