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.

Comments

and mountainhiker.

Get back to work!

With the right to enter the park comes responsibillities...upkeep and personel. It seems unfair to subsidy the park with entrance fees obtained from other national parks. So it seems other fees could be a way around it. Mountainhiker...how do you propose we pay for the upkeep, etc...in a fair manner compared to other national parks.

David Crowl, you ask a very good question. My only experience with national parks has been visiting them, as a member of the public, for purely recreational purposes. I have no experience with managing or working in a national park or any government operation for that matter. Off the top of my head, I have no answers for you. If I were to answer you with honest intent, I would need to spend a significant amount of time doing research on the background, the range of options, the legal restrictions, and so forth. In all the years this park has been in existance, I would hope that the federal government would have already studied this issue and has come up with such a proposal.

Mountainhiker, my experience is also only visiting. It would be nice if the gov't would fund the parks completely since they are owned by all of us, but it does seem that if they are insistant on having user fees (like entrance fees and camping fees) to make those of us that use the parks pay a bigger share, than it would seem this park needs to find a more equal footing.

David - You make a good point about how Congress chooses to fund the parks, and this is a subject that has been discussed at length in other threads on the Traveler in months past. For better or worse, the trend in recent years has been for Congress to ask the NPS to raise more and more of its support via user fees, and that inevitably results in some unhappy users - as clearly confirmed by this discussion!

Jim Burnett...You are right it has been discussed on earlier threads but it does seem to apply here. I personally look at the parks as a great asset for our country and I do not care how we pay for it... as long as we do pay for it. Use Federal funding or charge fees or both. Just do not underfund the parks and try to make it equal across the parks.

Still no one here will address the dishonest and manipulation of data that is driving this issue. You guys always harp back to the "poor" underfunded National Parks. I do not think that is even relevant to this discussion but since you are avoiding the real issue of the lies and deceit how about the graph someone posted that shows NPS funding increasing steadily over the past few years, not to mention that the Smokies received 80 million extra stimulus dollars with no mention of backcountry issues. That 80 million is 4 x their annual budget. How much of their annual budget goes to backcountry maintenance etc? Almost nothing. But backcountry users will pay and be the only ones to do so.

It's like arguing with the NPS. They avoid the real issues and throw out red herrings and go back to the old, boring and inaccurate 'Poor underfunded NPS diatribe." I am still waiting for someone here to read that FOIA and tell me what they think of page 5 and Ditmanson's authorization to collect a fee for a reservation system. I'm certain no one will tackle that watermelon because it is not defensible even by a NPS employee posting on company time or a retired one.


For better or worse, the trend in recent years has been for Congress to ask the NPS to raise more and more of its support via user fees


Jim - I thought we dispelled that myth earlier.

"Real" has lost any objective meaning in rhetoric. "I am a real blahblah" or "The real issue is XYZ" are pretty meaningless, when you realize and admit that if you ask 80 people what the 'real issue' is on anything you'll get 80 different answers.

In this discussion 'real' only means 'important to me'.

And to think I was under the impression this was about the backcountry fee in the Smokies. How embarrasing.


For better or worse, the trend in recent years has been for Congress to ask the NPS to raise more and more of its support via user fees.


ec doesn't believe that, but the political push to increase the role of user fees vs. tax dollars as a funding source for the NPS was certainly well underway in the early 1980s when James Watt was Secretary of the Interior. Here are just three examples, excerpted from this 1983 history of the NPS fee program.

"With proper development, a User Fee Program can move the NPS in the direction of self-sufficiency and substantially, or entirely, free the Park System from the appropriation process." (Memorandum, Deputy Assistant Secretary William D. Bettenberg, to Secretary of the Interior James Watt, Dec. 17, 1981.)

Under even greater pressure to cut domestic spending, President Ronald Reagan's appointees saw park fees as a logical way of offsetting general revenue appropriations for this discretionary category of the Federal budget.

In a letter to Congressional leaders supporting "The Recreation Fees and Improvements Act of 1982," Secretaries Watt (Interior), Block (Agriculture) and March (Army) noted that "existing fee revenues covered only four percent of the cost of public recreation areas and facilities; they estimated an increase to ten percent under the proposed legislation."

I certainly recall similar sentiments from Congress over the years, but it's not worth the time to dig up more sources. If ec disagrees with my opinion, that's okay.

O boy is this one a heated debate.

I guess that's why we don't all drive the same color car or eat the same food.

I'll only say this when it's free we love it and when it's not,well we see the results.

Shoot it even cost money to die the last I heard.

SmokiesBackpacker , you keep referring to page 5 of the document set. Are you talking about this document set?

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3rQxlRiSX1Rczd4OV9maENTdG1DenM0ejhkR1hEQQ/edit?pli=1

If so, this is the section on page 5 that refers to GSMNP. Is this what you want people to comment on?

===========================

GRSM is proposing to institute a new fee for backcountry camping and shelter reservation and use. The park currently does not charge for these reservations and is proposing to begin charging a fee to cover the service charges and related costs of putting these sites onto the NRRS. The final actual fee will be determined through the civic engagement process and is likely to align with the total fees charged to the NPS by the NRRS. Having these sites on the NRRS will improve customer service for the visitors wishing to reserve these sites as they will now have 24/7 access to reserve and/or change reservations rather than having to call the park during normal business hours. There will be no increase in overall annual revenue as the result of this proposed increase as this will simply be a new fee to cover the recreation.gov service fees.

===============================================

Jim, 1983 was 30 years ago, not "recent years". And as I recall, we went over this once before and saw in fact that funding had grown most ever year and fees had not become a significantly increasing share of the budget. Unfortunately, the NPS budget site doesn't appear to be working currently but I will keep monitoring it.

[edit]


If ec disagrees with my opinion, that's okay.


Whether fees are taking an increasing share isn't "opinion". Either it has happened or it hasn't. If the numbers show they have, I will be happy to concede the point. My recollection is that we reviewed this issue once before and the numbers showed otherwise. But, it wouldn't be the first time my recollection was wrong if it proves otherwise.

It just hit me that ec and several others here are actually exhibiting symptoms of that "entitlement mentality" that is so despised by conservatives among us. Interesting.

ec, yep, you're correct about 1983 not being very "recent." When we had this discussion before, I believe you disagreed when I said this subject went back several decades. I was just confirming it's a topic with some history.

And I'd also agree that the percentage of fees as part of the total NPS budget hasn't grown significantly in the past few years; most of the obvious sources of fee revenue in parks, such as higher entrance fees and new fees for programs, etc. have already been tapped.

There's not much room for growth in the area of user fees without stiring up the kind of fight we're seeing in the Smokies - but that doesn't mean some politicians are any less enamored with the idea that parks ought to pay more of their own way. The spirit of James Watt is still alive and well in some circles in Washington.

I'd guess many park managers at all levels don't see much hope of additional financial help from Congress, so the message - and their only other option - has been "figure out someplace else to get the money."

And so, we find ourselves in the current situation that arose from one of those attempts to raise some money at the park level.

You know Jim, I don't have a problem with fees per se. But I think Smokie has a very valid point that the whole approach at GSMNP has been wrong.

Mountainhiker,

Yes. thank you for addressing the issue. The last sentence says that there will be no increase in overall annual revenue as the result of this proposed increase as this will simply be a new fee to cover the rec.gov service fees.

Any other use of funds from the backcountry fee is exceeding their authorization by the DOI, All the NPS employees posting here can change the conversation to poor mouthing about the NPS but you have extracted the very language that contradicts all this feel good, help the park nonsense.

Thanks for looking at the document.

SmokiesBackpacker, I'm glad to help pinpoint the text under discussion. That paragraph is pretty straightforward IMHO.

I get it that the new fee covers only the cost of the reservation system and doesn't generate funding to support other areas of the park or any other park expenses. What I don't get is why this reservation fee would be considered illegal (and I assume it is indeed considered illegal by those who have brought a lawsuit against the national park system).

A recurring complaint from SmokiesBackpacer is that "there are NO amenities in the smokies backcountry, right? When I say no amenities I mean none."

As best I can tell, the Smokies have more miles of trail than any other national park except Yellowstone, which is four times the size of GSMNP, and has been a park for over 60 years longer. I'd call over 800 miles of trails and the associated bridges, signs, etc. some pretty important "amenities" for backpackers in this terrain. As this story notes, off-trail travel in much of the Smokies isn't much fun, or a great idea.

Maintenance of these facilities require time and money by both the park and a host of dedicated volunteers, as covered in another story on the Traveler today about the completion of the huge trail clean-up and repair job following the April 2011 tornado, along with other trail work in the past year or so.

I enjoy using the trails in the Smokies and other parks when I visit, but I don't expect them to get as large a share of the park budget as other facilities. As best I can tell from a quick search on-line, backcountry stays in GSMNP amount to less than one percent of the total visitation, and the reported "over 400,000 hikers" who use park trails amount to about 5% of the park visitation.

Like it or not, most of the money and staffing will go to serve the needs of the majority of park visitors, and that is true everywhere, not just in this park.


I'd call over 800 miles of trails and the associated bridges, signs, etc. some pretty important "amenities" for backpackers in this terrain.


The exact same amenities that day hikers use for free. And that applies to rangers and SAR that someone mention earlier as well.


The exact same amenities that day hikers use for free. And that applies to rangers and SAR that some mention earlier as well.


True to only some extent. Most day hikers don't get very deep into the backcountry, and I'd guess that some of the more expensive and complex SAR incidents involve overnight backcountry users, who are further off the road in many cases.

So, maybe your solution for "fairness" would be to ask day hikers to pay a fee as well? :-) Not a bad idea in concept, but certainly not a practical one.

Mtnliving, I can understand what you're saying. The amenities I most enjoy in the national parks are the natural ones -- the trails, views, trees, streams, wildlife, the scent of fresh mountain air, camping out under the stars with no light pollution -- all the things you can't find in metro areas or suburbs or city parks. I don't understand all the whining about the day hikers or horseback riders or the manmade amenities that others use in the parks.

If "free" is what you want most, then be a day hiker or bicycle rider for the day. If overnight is what you want, then pay the small fee to camp be happy with your choice. Seems to me, if one is so angry about paying the overnight fee, one would be tied up in their own rage and could not even enjoy the park. IMHO it's wiser to either pay the fee and feel gratitude for the opportunity to camp at GSMNP or find someplace or something that is free and feel good that you're getting it totally free.

Amenity:
1. The quality of being pleasant or attractive; agreeableness.
2. Something that contributes to physical or material comfort.
3. A feature that increases attractiveness or value, especially of a piece of real estate or a geographic location.

I see nowhere in those definitions a description of anything provided by the NPS to constitute an amenity in the Smokies. I see things provided by the God and given to the federal government by ETN and WNC residents plus a gifty by the Rockefellers, but no "amenity" provided by the NPS. The trails leading into the park are maintained by a "gift" from the Aslan foundation that pays for trail maintenance. When you look at the Smokies budget, hardly any of it goes to the backcountry. FLREA specifies that a minimum of amenities must be provided before the NPS can charge citizens to use public lands. A trail that is maintained by volunteers is not an amenity, neither is a cumbersome registration system that was wholly rejected by the public. Of course, none of this matters that the peoples wishes are irrelevant here. This is Ditmanson's park and he is king. Being King means there is no oversight and you make the rules as you go along. Soon they will be charging to park at trailheads. Now you have to pay to see fireflies. did the NPS provide that "amenity". They play God all the time but that is a stretch even for them.

The discussion has turned to what is/is not an 'amenity.' But its my understanding that the fee in question -- the one over which the lawsuit has been initated -- is a fee for a service. That service is a reservation system. Is it illegal for the national park system to charge a service fee for a service provided in the national parks?

Take a look at FLREA. It gives you specifics about the number of amenities for which they must provide before meeting the criteria to charge you for this "service". A "service" that no one wants to solve a problem that was created to justify the "service". You know its b.s. That "service" is going to generate 200k per year. That's some darn expensive reservation system "service". You going to tell me it costs that much? There is a guy down here who volunteered to provide that reservation system free of charge to the Superintendent and he laughed at the offer. Why would you ever take something for free when you can double tax citizens for a govt offered "solution" for a problem which didn't exist?

Haven't ever used this reservation system and I have no idea how much it costs to design, maintain and/or support such a system. I imagine that, as with most reservation systems today, there has to be secured and standardized software (for instance, standardized with all the rest of the national parks in the system? How could the system be "free" if it is part of the nps.gov standard system?), technical staff available to immediately correct day to day glitches and system problems when they arise, and also support staff available by phone for those campers who either don't have computers or email in order to use the electronic version of the system. How much would all that cost? Don't have a clue. I would say the best determination of this would be a comparison with the annual cost of the backcountry reservations systems used in all the other national parks which currently have them in place.

To be honest, I don't know anything about FLREA. From googling the term just now, I assume that's the federal lands recreation enhancement act that was put in place in the Bush administration about 10 years ago. Right? Does this act prohibit backcountry reservations systems? If so, how have all the other national parks with backcountry reservations fees put them in place and kept them in place legally? I could be wrong, but if this reservations fee is illegal, seems it would be illegal nationwide in all national parks. Also, I would think the federal government would have already been challenged on this and would have obtained legal input to verify the legality of backcountry reservation systems and associated fees under FLREA prior to going to the trouble to install the systems. Have there been other lawsuits brought against this backcountry reservation system used at any of the other national parks?

Ha! Just found one potentially-related lawsuit brought by Western Slope No-Fee Coalition. In this one (free access to forest service property, not a national park), the settlement "ensures free access to the trails and backcountry of the Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area, near Tuscon." Is this the same legal basis as the current lawsuit related to GSMNP?

http://www.adventure-journal.com/2013/01/another-forest-service-fee-bites-the-dust/

Here is the complete court document on this case (this is a pdf file):

http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/2012_02_09_Mt_Lemmon_Decision_Reversed_and_Remanded.pdf

The part that stands out for me is the next-to-last page which states:

[8]

Finally, the Forest Service claims that it may charge a

fee for any and all camping within the Mount Lemmon HIRA.

The REA, however, clearly prohibits fees “[f]or camping at

undeveloped sites that do not provide a

minimum number of

facilities and services as described in subsection (g)(2)(A).”

16 U.S.C. § 6802(d)(1)(E);

see 16 U.S.C. § 6802(g)(2)(A)

(requiring a “developed” campsite to provide “at least a

majority” of nine specified facilities and services). The Forest

Service violates that prohibition by charging visitors who

camp at sites lacking the required “minimum number” of nine

“facilities and services.” For example, a camper who pitches

a tent in a spot without garbage cans, picnic tables, campfire

pits, bathrooms, and someone collecting fees is required to

pay a standard amenity. That plainly violates § 6802(d)(1)(E).

Mtnhiker, you have now opened the door and light is shining in. I wish folks would do proper diligence like yourself to see what is being challenged in court with regard to the Smokies Fees. Granted, the Forest Service and NPS have different angles on FLREA. That is what the Smokies Backcountry Fee lawsuit is challenging. It will have implications for the entire NPS and authorization for fees under Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement ACt. Its a bad law and bad policy. I hope it gets changed soon.

SmokiesBackpacker I have numerous questions about this. I'll start with two of them.

1. The Mt. Lemmon case is public knowledge and legal precedent. But I had to spend time searching to find it myself -- and I'm not even opposed to the fee!!!. The supporters of this lawsuit need to do their own due diligence and present it clearly to the dubious public -- like me. Of all those who support the GSMNP lawsuit, both here on this thread and over at Southern Forest Watch, why has not one person even bothered to mention it? This is a no-brainer. This ruling should be clearly presented front and center on the home page at Southern Forest Watch and brought up on every thread where supporters of the lawsuit post. If they want to *educate* the public, then this legal precedent is a crucial foundation stone. When presented in a logical, rational, factual manner (not all the wild-eyed trauma drama, whining, and anger of a temper tantrum that is going on at Southern Forest Watch and some here as well), this is the way to form a foundation for educating other citizens about the merits of the GSMNP case. So my first question is: Why has the Mt. Lemmon ruling not been used by supporters (here on this thread on the home page at at Southern Forest Watch) to make a rational and common sense debate point about the merits of the GSMNP lawsuit?

2. The Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area case clearly finds the government cannot charge for the right to hike or camp where there are no (or virtually no) man-made amenities. However, that ruling doesn't address the federal government charging a fee for a reservation system. To me, that makes the GSMNP lawsuit somewhat different from Mt. Lemmon. The GSMNP fee is not a direct charge for a campsite or a hiking trail. It's the fee for the service of reserving the campsite (even though that site has virtually no amenities). In all honesty, I would think the federal government (they're not *that* dumb afterall) would have done their own due diligence to ensure a reservations service fee is not contrary to FLREA. So, why has no other national park backcountry reservations system been deemed illegal based on FLREA? They've obviously been in place a lot longer.

EXPANDED AMENITY RECREATION SITES AND SERVICES FEES (Category 3)

This category includes facilities and services that provide direct benefits primarily to individuals or groups.It is thus appropriate for the individual or group that is provided a direct service or uses a specialized facility to bear a greater share of these costs.Fees may be assessed for the following facilities or services:

A.Use of developed campgrounds that provide at least a majority of the following amenities in a configuration that can be used in an integrated manner by the visitor:

i.tent or trailer space;

ii.picnic tables;

iii.drinking water;

iv.access roads;

v.collection of the fee by an employee or agent of the Forest Service*;

vi.reasonable visitor protection*;

vii.refuse containers;

viii.toilet facilities; and

ix.simple devices for containing a campfire.

OR

G. Use of reservation services.

GSMNP already required back country permits of staying overnight.They were free but still required. Now, they have added a reservation system so back country hikers and equestrians can get a permit 24/7. The fee pays for the reservation system. So, GSMNP could easily argue that the fee falls under G. Use of reservation services rather than A. developed campgrounds.

dahkota -- thank you! I now see that "G. Use of reservation services" is stated clearly in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) as a legal option for fees. See http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/16C87.txt

This is what sets the Mt. Lemmon forest service case apart from the GSMNP situation. And its why I remain dubious about the legal grounds for the GSMNP lawsuit. The GSMNP reservation system and its fees appear to me to be completely legal under FLREA.

So, I go back to my previous line of inquiry: Is the reservation service fee at GSMNP illegal? If so, what makes it illegal? Moreover, if this type of reservation system fee is illegal, why has it not already been deemed illegal in all the national parks which have had such a fee in place for quite a while now?

Mountainhiker.

Thank you or your input. It is constructive. (Keep it coming.)

The problem is Mt. Lemmon is a National Forest.

The Smoky Mountains is a National Park.

Even under FLREA, those are apples and oranges.

Most of FLREA does not apply to National Parks.

Tennessee Backpacker, I think you are incorrect. According to: Director's Order #22 (http://www.nps.gov/policy/DOrders/DO-22.pdf), particularly "1.3" and "5.," most of the justification for fees in the NPS is FLREA.

Mountain hiker -

Thanks for some excellent input, including your analysis for why even though a volunteer-run reservation system seems like a fine bargain, it isn't practical. Another big issue is the accountability for people's credit card numbers and other forms of payment for reservations if the system were run by volunteers.

The question about whether the amount being charged for a backcountry reservation exceeds the cost of operation is a good one, and will likely be addressed as part of the litigation.

Mtnliving -- Absolutely true. When you're dealing with the public's money, you must have a secured and standardized software system. There is no doubt in my mind the federal government would be foolish to get somebody's third cousin twice removed to develop a "free" reservations software system and then expect that person to maintain it and manage the phone calls, credit card issues, and so forth when -- hello -- there is already a proven, secure and standardized reservations system in use by the national park system.

I can't speak to whether the amount charged for the current reservation system exceeds the cost of the operation. However, if it did, would that make the reservation system illegal? Or would it simply result in an adjustment of the amount of the fee? Would it reveal that the feds didn't base their numbers on existing reservation systems at other parks? Somehow, I expect they did their homework on this since comparable numbers would be easy to glean from other parks. But I guess we'll see.

dahkota -- I agree with you. It appears to me that FLREA clearly applies to all federal recreational lands, from national forests and national parks to Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Land Management. And,clearly, several national parks have been charging a fee for their backcountry reservation systems for a time now.

So, to whomever can answer this question: Have *any* of these backcountry reservation systems and their fees in *any* of the other national parks proven to violate FLREA?

I don't believe that anyone has challenged the NPS in court over backcountry fees in light of FLREA. It has been done in the National Forest Arena but that is why this Smokies lawsuit is so important. The basis will be, did they properly follow the administrative procedures act and does the number of amenities fall within the prescribed verbiage in FLREA. If the Southern Forest Watch prevails, it will have implications for other backcountry fees in other parks. I do think that the other units in the NPS have a set number of amenities like picninc tables etc. This is clearly lacking in the Smokies.

SmokiesBackpacker - I'm not clear on the administrative procedures that GSMNP was required to follow prior to enacting the reservation system. What task did they fail to complete? Do you know?

On the backcountry fees in other parks, there are several other national parks with backcountry reservation systems in place and associated fees charged. I may have left out some, but I believe the list includes:

- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Yosemite National Park

So here's my next questions:

1. Are you saying that these other national parks with backcountry reservation systems and associated fees put picnic tables or built other man-made amenities across their wilderness areas in their backcountry campsites?

2. From looking at FLREA (thank you for introducing it to me), it appears that the fees are based on EITHER (1) Having certain amenities to qualify for charging a fee to access; OR (2) Having a reservation system. If the park has the reservation system, it can charge strictly for the service that the system provides, whether or not any amenities are involved. GSMNP apparently qualifies the fee on the second option -- which is identified as "G. Use of reservation services" in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). Where you do you see that amenities must be provided *in addition to* the reservation system in order for a fee to be charged? Can you quote from FLREA on this point?

Thanks.

SmokiesBackpacker I can see that, as you said, "If the Southern Forest Watch prevails, it will have implications for other backcountry fees in other parks." Good point! That would, in fact, be monumental. I don't completely discount that outcome. However, I remain dubious about the validity of the lawsuit.

From a novice's perspective (that is, one who is neither an attorney nor an employee of the federal government), the following scenarios seem to be the possibilities:

1. Southern Forest Watch wins the case. (This means I am either reading FLREA wrong or misunderstanding the basis of the lawsuit - for instance, there is a basis other than FLREA.)

2. GSMNP wins the case. This means the court finds that GSMNP is operating within the letter of the law as presented under FLREA (or whatever other basis the lawsuit is being brought, if FLREA is not it.)

3. GSMNP didn't follow a certain point of administrative process properly, thus the lawsuit wins on one count (administrative process not followed), but not all counts. (For instance, the fee is legal but the process followed to enact the fee left out one step.) However, it seems to me that, in this case, GSMNP could simply start the process (as required by FLREA) all over again and reinstate the fee. (For instance, I see nowhere in FLREA that the public has to agree with the fee, only that the public is given the opportunity to provide their opinion to a proposed fee.)

4. If a reservation systems fee (which is allowed by FLREA) is somehow in and of itself illegal -- as established by some other legal document or court ruling precedent -- this suggests that a lawsuit must be brought to reverse FLREA itself. Which is a much bigger can of worms.

So, that's my cut on it. I still don't see what is illegal about a reservation systems fee under FLREA. So there must be something else involved to bring a lawsuit.

If it is discovered that Ditmanson got the cart before the horse and purchased or agreed to purchase a reservation system and shortened the comments period and exceeds his authorization from the DOI, then this could cause a restart of the procedure. He received authorization to pay for recreation.gov but then did their own system. He also said that congressional reps had no problems with the fee when evidence clearly states that is false. The list goes on and on with regard to his usurping of the administrative procedures act. He mischaracterized the public social data and the campsite overcrowding assertions. Regarding FLREA, the res system is one "amenity". I see no others.


If the Southern Forest Watch prevails, it will have implications for other backcountry fees in other parks.


One implication could be eliminating backcountry fees entirely. If that would also mean the end of backcountry reservation systems, opinions will vary on whether that's a desirable outcome. As pointed out in previous comments, such systems require some source of funding if they are to be run on a reliable basis, and a fee paid by those who use the system seems to be the most equitable solution.

The main advantage of reservation systems is the ability of backcountry users to plan a trip in advance, and that's especially valuable for hikers who want to make a multi-day trip that includes several backcountry stops. Many people need to arrange their vacation time far in advance. Without a reservation system, a visitor who travels a long distance to make a backcountry trip could be both disappointed and seriously inconvenienced to find upon arrival that there were no permits available for backcountry sites.

Some will of course question whether there should be any limits on backcountry camping at all. That's an entirely different subject that touches on the problems of both resource damage and a low-quality visitor experience that can occur from uncontrolled camping, especially in heavily-used locations or fragile environments.

Reservation systems are most valuable for visitors who don't live in the immediate vicinity of a park. In places where backcountry camping permits are available on a "walk-up" basis only a day or two in advance, the locals have a distinct advantage in getting a site.

Who would benefit the most if advance reservation systems were eliminated? Certainly not someone coming to the Smokies from Atlanta, or Nashville, or .... It's a question worth asking as part of the current debate.

SmokiesBackpacker -- in reply to your last post:

- "Ditmanson got the cart before the horse and purchased or agreed to purchase a reservation system" -- Have no idea about this but I see where FLREA states:

(b) Advance notice
The Secretary shall publish a notice in the Federal Register of
the establishment of a new recreation fee area for each agency 6
months before establishment. The Secretary shall publish notice of
a new recreation fee or a change to an existing recreation fee
established under this chapter in local newspapers and publications
located near the site at which the recreation fee would be
established or changed.

- "shortened the comments period" -- I don't see anything in FLREA that presents a required timeframe. Can you quote that point from FLREA?

- "exceeds his authorization from the DOI" -- not clear on that either. What did he do to exceed his authorization? Used a different reservation system? I *thought* the reservation system was part of nps.gov -- here https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/ -- but I can't see "below the surface" as to who developed the software, who maintains it, etc. If this software is illegal per FLREA (or any other basis), I have to wonder why the feds would even put it up on the official national nps.gov website .

- "said that congressional reps had no problems with the fee when evidence clearly states that is false." If that is the case, does that make the fee illegal?

- "He mischaracterized the public social data and the campsite overcrowding assertions." Well, I know this won't be popular but -- to be blunt -- if he lied about this, so what? It may well be a character flaw in the man, but mischaracterizing social data and campsite overcrowding is not addressed by FLREA. That is, FLREA doesn't require that overcrowding of campsites be present to justify the reservation system or the fee for it. A reservation system can be put in place for the ease of management and a fee can be charged for it, per FLREA. There is no justification required at all in FLREA that I can find. If I'm wrong, can you find the quote in FLREA which supports your point?

- "Regarding FLREA, the res system is one "amenity". I see no others." Clearly, from FLREA, no other amenities are required at all in order to charge a fee for a reservation system. Below is a direct quote from FLREA under 16 USC Sec. 6802. I've highlighted (G) Use of reservation services. It stands alone. The park doesn't have to provide anything under (A) such as picnic tables or trailer spaces or access roads in OR (B) boat launches OR (C) rental cabins or rented equipment OR (D) OR (E) OR (F) in order to charge a fee for (G) reservation services. Each of them stands alone as a legal basis for a fee.

========================

(g) Expanded amenity recreation fee
(1) NPS and USFWS authority
Except as limited by subsection (d), the Secretary of the
Interior may charge an expanded amenity recreation fee, either in
addition to an entrance fee or by itself, at Federal recreational
lands and waters under the jurisdiction of the National Park
Service or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service when the
Secretary of the Interior determines that the visitor uses a
specific or specialized facility, equipment, or service.
(2) Other Federal land management agencies
Except as limited by subsection (d), the Secretary may charge
an expanded amenity recreation fee, either in addition to a
standard amenity fee or by itself, at Federal recreational lands
and waters under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, the
Bureau of Land Management, or the Bureau of Reclamation, but only
for the following facilities or services:
(A) Use of developed campgrounds that provide at least a
majority of the following:
(i) Tent or trailer spaces.
(ii) Picnic tables.
(iii) Drinking water.
(iv) Access roads.
(v) The collection of the fee by an employee or agent of
the Federal land management agency.
(vi) Reasonable visitor protection.
(vii) Refuse containers.
(viii) Toilet facilities.
(ix) Simple devices for containing a campfire.

(B) Use of highly developed boat launches with specialized
facilities or services such as mechanical or hydraulic boat
lifts or facilities, multi-lane paved ramps, paved parking,
restrooms and other improvements such as boarding floats,
loading ramps, or fish cleaning stations.
(C) Rental of cabins, boats, stock animals, lookouts,
historic structures, group day-use or overnight sites, audio
tour devices, portable sanitation devices, binoculars or other
equipment.
(D) Use of hookups for electricity, cable, or sewer.
(E) Use of sanitary dump stations.
(F) Participation in an enhanced interpretive program or
special tour.
(G) Use of reservation services.
(H) Use of transportation services.
(I) Use of areas where emergency medical or first-aid
services are administered from facilities staffed by public
employees or employees under a contract or reciprocal agreement
with the Federal Government.
(J) Use of developed swimming sites that provide at least a
majority of the following:
(i) Bathhouse with showers and flush toilets.
(ii) Refuse containers.
(iii) Picnic areas.
(iv) Paved parking.
(v) Attendants, including lifeguards.
(vi) Floats encompassing the swimming area.
(vii) Swimming deck.
=========================

Jim Burnett -- you make a very good points. Thanks for asking the question:

"Who would benefit the most if advance reservation systems were eliminated? Certainly not someone coming to the Smokies from Atlanta, or Nashville, or .... It's a question worth asking as part of the current debate."

The national parks belong to every citizen, not just the locals in the immediate vicinity of a given park, and so need to be managed in such a way as to best serve all citizens who want to visit them.

You guys obviously don't backpack in the Smokies. You are forgetting that the campsites are empty. Per the parks own data there are less than 2 campers per night per site. That is in sites rated for up to 12 and 14 people. There is nothing that needs to be reserved. Therefore, it is no inconveineice to out of towners. The cumbersome registration system that requires a credit card is a hindrance to access to the backcountry. Which is empty, most of the time. They created a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. Period.

Mountainhiker and Jim Burnett, nice points. You seem to have a great grasp on this. I enjoy your evaluations.

Mtn hiker,

You just said that a lying superintendent who manipulated data is irrelevant to the fee issue? Then we will have no basis for agreement here. In the Smokies, we do feel as if deceit and disregard of public perception are relevant. It is a Southern thing. And to us, it is more important that a bad law created to give a bunch of tyrants the authority to double tax citizens for land they donated to the govt. Morals and integrity are what drive this Smokies fee issue. THAT is what is going on trial. I hope it exposes Jarvis and the entire NPS culture that is clouded with deceit, dishonest and targeting of opposing viewpoints.

SmokiesBackpacker -


You are forgetting that the campsites are empty. Per the parks own data there are less than 2 campers per night per site. That is in sites rated for up to 12 and 14 people. There is nothing that needs to be reserved.


If that's true, I have to wonder why you complained so bitterly about the recent decision not to reopen just one backcountry campsite damaged in the April 2011 tornado.

You also complain that the park doesn't devote enough funding to supporting the backcountry.Information posted elsewhere recently says fewer than 1% of visitors to the park spend a night in the backcountry. If your information is correct, that's not due to a lack of campsites, but rather a lack of demand for that activity vs. front-country activity.

I wish there was more money and staffing for the backcountry in every park that has such areas. Some of the best experience in my life have been in the backcountry in places like Glacier and Grand Canyon. No matter what their personal preferences might be, park managers generally have to put most of their resources in places that serve the greatest number of visitors.

SmokiesBackpacker -- I just said FLREA does not address it. My comments are based on FLREA, what it requires and what it never adddresses. Nowhere does FLREA say that a reservations system must be based on overcrowding. As well, the fee does not have to be justified based on overcrowding (or social data or anything of that nature). If I am wrong, please quote the section where FLREA requires such justification. Thanks.

You just discovered FLREA. I am no lawyer and introduced you to it. It is for the court to decide if FLREA applies in the fee issue. My interpretation is that it does apply and they don't meet the minimum number of amenites prescribed.

Jim Burnett,

your comment makes no sense. I am complaining that they permanently closed another backcountry site. Why wouldn't a backcountry camper complain about that? They want people out of their backcountry and the fee imposition and closing of that site make the point for me. Again, the public desires have no bearing upon you NPS people. It is your kingdom and you do as you wish. The public desires be damned.

SmokiesBackpacker -- neither you nor I are attorneys, but we are both intelligent enough to read FLREA and to arrive at, as you say, our own interpretation of it, including its requirements and restrictions. Which statements/requirements in FLREA are you using to arrive at your interpretation that the backcountry reservations system with fees is illegal? Are you referring strictly to the categories of amenities which I posted above?

Thanks.