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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.


Tennessee Backpacker, you seem very angry and, from this thread, it's not clear why. But if you don't support the parks and you don't want to pay a small fee to camp in the national parks (or state parks, or private campgrounds, or wherever), then that's up to you. And you have the right to find other places to go where its free to stay overnight. Those of us who do support the parks will continue to enjoy them. Freedom of choice.

I can tell you that a lot of people are mad at Ditmanson's lies and deception. And tell me why you think that backpackers and backpackers alone have to foot the bill for his mismanagement of the Smokies? He could come up with a quarter million dollars to complete Newfound Gap road in record time but can't open up backcountry trails that have been closed for two years? Give me a break. If anyone should be paying in that park it is the concessionaires like Leconte Lodge and local guide services who make millions off the park. It's like someone told me yesterday, Ditmanson takes credit for the good and blames problems on other people. He is a bad seed and liability for the NPS. I look forward to the exposing of his bs in court. Just google private resort and their private trail system in the Smokies on NPS land. He can sure turn a blind eye when a prominent senator is involved in some misdealings in the park, huh?

SmokiesBackpacker -

I believe a little research would reveal that most of the funds for the emergency repairs on the Newfound Gap Road came not from park sources, but from the Federal Highway Admininstration. According to news reports, the Cherokee Nation also made a significant contribution to the work.

This was not, as suggested, an example of Mr. Ditmanson playing favorites with park funds for a road repair vs. backcountry trail work, and park managers have a lot less discretion in using funding from various sources than you seem to believe. In this case, I'd give the superintendent and his staff some credit for finding money outside of park sources for what was clearly an urgent need that affected millions of visitors to the park.

The backcountry fee is obviously a very personal issue for you, and you're certainly entitled to be opposed to it. Perhaps the fee decision process could have been handled better by the park, but as illustrated by the above comment, the issue has taken on the feel of a personal vendetta on your part against the park superintendent.

Let's all at least try to be fair in our discussions on the Traveler.


Backcountry trails in the smokies have been closed for two years but a road is completed in record time. You are mischaracterizing something. Backpackers will be paying a fee but no one else in the park has to pony up anything. It just proves that Ditmanson does not care about the backcountry or backcountry users and wishes to reduce backcountry usage by restricting access to it. Your idea of fair and mine are very different. There is a petition to recall Ditmanson from folks in Ohio and Kentucky. Don't know if you are a Smokies "customer" as that is what we are now called but Ditmanson's "customers" are mad. Check it out.

Sorry, SmokiesBacker, as explained above, attempts to compare funding for this road repair job and the lack of repairs to backcountry trails are what's being "mischaracterized."

The reasons there are no entrance fees for US 441 users as there are for similar roads at most other parks have already been covered in detail in several stories on the Traveler, and it would be futile to revisit that topic yet again.

You're welcome to draw your own conclusions about the Superintendent's feelings about the backcountry, but there is evidence the park staff is also doing what they can for trails with the funds they have available. Just one example is found in a recent article on the Traveler.

And, yes - I'm happy to say I visit the Smokies several times a year, and no, given the park's lack of better options, I do not object to the backcountry fee.


I am not a park employee past or present. Therefore, as a customer, I am allowed to criticize the mgmt of the park and stand with the majority of Smokies "customers" who reject this tax on backcountry usage. I am interested in your opinion as to the public comments which are 18-1 against this fee. That places you in the minority. Do you think that the NPS cares about public comment? I am very interested in your take on that situation given your history with the NPS.

Such a strangely volatile thread here. I can't believe the anger over small fees that all campers pay at GSMNP. I don't think it matters how you get into the park or what you're carrying or what you're bringing with you. You enter free and you only pay a fee if you stay overnight. That's across the board, so no one single group of the public is singled out to pay in order to experience an overnight stay in the park.

Jim Burnett, thank you for your rational comments here and for offering a voice of common sense on this topic. It's starting to sound like the unexplained anger expressed by some is indeed more of a personal vendetta. In the meantime, I do believe I'll just enjoy the park and appreciate its beauty.

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